Part of the uniqueness of the college football season for the FBS is that every game matters. Now, even though that may be true, there are some that are more important than the others. On Friday night in Morgantown, there is everything on the line for the Sooners against West Virginia. The outlook on the 2018 football season will still have a positive spin or will hold the shape of pure disappointment. With a win, the Sooners will play for their fourth consecutive Big 12 championship against its hated rivals in the Texas Longhorns. But, with a loss, Oklahoma must face the reality of not even making the conference championship game.
Heisman, Conference Championship, Playoff Berth
It’s not often that you find yourself playing for a Heisman trophy, a conference championship, and a possible playoff berth in the same game. But, that’s what awaits the Sooners in Morgantown. Kyler Murray ranks second in the Heisman Trophy race with just two games to go. He’s been a pleasant surprise by most Sooner fans this season. In fact, he’s been every bit as good as his predecessing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. The added dimension of the scrambling ability has also made the Sooner ground game more potent despite losing Rodney Anderson early in the year.
With the three-point loss to Texas in the Red River Showdown, Oklahoma knew that it had a razor-thin margin of error early in the year. They have had some close calls down the stretch. After spotting Texas Tech 14 points early, Oklahoma came back and won another shootout in Lubbock. And, just two weeks ago, the Sooners survived Bedlam with a one-point victory. The Sooners may have to play a near-perfect game to survive West Virginia to get that rematch with the Longhorns.
Another key point is that the Sooners still are in the thick of the playoff race. Now, it’s obviously an uphill climb, but the opportunity is still there. Should Oklahoma defeat West Virginia, Sooner nation will be big Ohio State and Southern Cal fans on Saturday. The biggest question has been posed as to whether you would want Oklahoma in the playoffs with the state of their defense. However, having the opportunity to play for a championship would be much better than on the outside looking in.
Scouting West Virginia
The Mountaineers have been a dynamic football team in 2018. That has been particularly the case at home where they have not scored less than 35 points in Morgantown all season. Will Grier is the captain of the ship and everything you would look for in a Heisman quarterback. In his senior campaign, he’s thrown for over 3,300 yards with 33 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. But, what makes the West Virginia attack dangerous is their versatility. Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, and Leddie Brown have been a three-headed monster on the ground with over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Granted, the competition has not been strong at home in not facing a top 25 team. But, West Virginia is only giving 14 points per game at home this season. Now, they haven’t faced a team with the offensive firepower as Oklahoma. But, the Mountaineers have set a precedent for opportunistic play that could lead them to a championship game appearance.
It’s inevitable, the narrative on any Sooners telecast is the defensive struggles that have followed the Oklahoma team this season. After Lincoln Riley dismissed Mike Stoops the defense seemed to improve slightly against TCU and Kansas State. However, since then it has progressively gotten worse in 46 and 47 point performances by Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. But, it reached a boiling point last week. In the final home game of the season, Kansas scored 40 points against the Sooners.
To emphasize the poor play, over the last three games the Sooner defense has given up individual records to opposing players. First, Against Texas Tech, Antoine Wesley caught 12 balls for 199 yards. His reception total and yardage total was his highest mark in conference play. Next, Taylor Cornelius threw for 501 yards in the Sooners one-point victory. This was his highest output of the season. His previous high was 428 against South Alabama. And, the 48 points tied for the highest point total in conference play. Finally, Pooka Williams pounded the Sooner defense for 252 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Williams finished the game with almost 25% of his season total output of the season in one game against Oklahoma. Also, the 40 points were the most points scored in the conference season.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which this game is not a shootout. Without a key injury, it may take 50 or 60 points to win this football game. On the surface, this looks to be much like the game in 2012. Oklahoma was able to come out on top against West Virginia 50-49. Landry Jones threw for 554 yards and six touchdowns. Comparatively, Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries. The Mountaineers had 778 total yards in the loss.
There’s no need for a date night this Friday night. Grab some Thanksgiving leftovers or even perhaps a tub of popcorn and tune into ESPN at 7:00 PM CST. Put your feet up and watch the show. Yardage, first downs, points, and entertainment will be plenty as Oklahoma and West Virginia battle it out for a trip to Dallas. Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.