OU Preview: Prelude To An Upset

These aren't your usual Oklahoma Sooners. They might, in fact, seem to harken back to the days of yore, a run-heavy offense designed to overwhelm foes with physicality, then mix in a dose of skill.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 9/7 7:00 PM EST

Norman, OK

Gaylord Family
Memorial Stadium
Record: 1-0

Last Game
W&M 24-17 W

Sirius\XM: 132/192

Web: BlueGoldNews.com

Record: 1-0

Last Game
La Monroe 34-0 W
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

Series: OU 3-2

First Meeting: 1958
Last Meeting: 2012
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

No longer does OU dazzle with quarterbacks named Bradford, White and Heupel. They aren't likely to rack up a 4,000-yard passing season. They won't often go to four verticals, pushing the defense, and the ball, deep and relying on high-caliber wideouts to make plays. Instead, Bob Stoops' latest team prefers a page from the Barry Switzer playbook, using a stable of backs and a running signal caller to exhaust foes, then engulf them when they're running on fumes.

Such was the game plan in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe. Freshman quarterback Trevor Knight completed just 11 of 28 passes for 86 yards, as pedestrian an effort as recent memory can recall. But oh, boy, what he did with his legs. On the fourth play of the game, a third and 10, Knight dropped to pass, then scrambled out of trouble for a 24-yard again. He punished the Warhawks time and again on broken plays – and many of them were, considering Knight struggled to quickly read the defense and his pass placement was left lacking. But when trouble was brewing, Knight flipped the risk to a reward, sliding around in the pocket, trying to be a pass-first quarterback, but ultimately relying on his rushing ability, which led to a team-high 103 yards.

Oklahoma's second-leading rusher? Damien Williams. The senior back ran for 66 yards on 16 carries, his longest going for nine yards. Knight, in comparison, became the first Oklahoma quarterback to run for 100 or more yards since Jason White in 2001, and the first to ever have more running than passing yards during Stoops' tenure. Knight also added three touchdowns, all in the air, then said, merely, that Oklahoma "didn't light it up like we did in the past. We did what we needed to do to win, and that's all that matters."

Oklahoma will take another result just the same this Saturday. They key to putting a kink in Knight's armor? Discipline and tackling. West Virginia had little of the former in the first game, getting beat deep multiple times because of biting on backfield fakes. The Mountaineer defensive backs failed to get their heads around on multiple passes, and were unaware of ball location numerous times. The temptation to play in run support will be magnified with OU's new style and veteran offensive line. But WVU must stick to its reads, trusting the front seven to fit up properly in the run game and the backfield to challenge pass-first, then run.

The Mountaineers played much of the William and Mary game in a base defense, and that might serve them well in week two. WVU isn't likely to invest in multiple blitz packages, or exotic schemes to get to eh quarterback because of the danger Knight leaks out and runs. It's better off leveraging the football, playing proper angles and forcing the frosh to throw downfield and beat the secondary. If Shaq Rowell can man the point of attack – an area that was questionable in the first half against the Tribe – and ends Will Clarke and Eric Kinsey can keep the outside rushes, and Knight, contained, West Virginia can rely on its bulk at linebacker.

The Mountaineers, despite their shortcomings last season, were steady against the run and their current linebacker skillsets – lacking a bit of speed, but with some power and ruggedness – matches up nicely with Oklahoma. If the secondary can keep its head in the game, and its eyes out of the backfield, and play within the scheme, it has a solid chance of slowing the Sooners enough to have a chance.

One the offensive side, the schematics and skillsets don't layout as nicely. Perhaps it was the 34-0 blanking. Maybe it was that, unlike with West Virginia, Oklahoma's game was never in doubt entering the fourth quarter. Whatever the case, there's seemingly a sense of calm with this Oklahoma offense that WVU fans don't seem to have with their own – despite the Mountaineers having arguably more balance and a better thrower in Paul Millard. The first major test, if not surefire answers will come this weekend against a Sooner team which employs a 4-2-5 look under former Arizona head coach and current OU coordinator Mike Stoops.

Like against Texas' 4-2-5 a season ago (Texas DC Manny Diaz and Stoops have bounced between the 3-4 and 4-2-5, but much of that is semantics), West Virginia's offense should find some room if its line can handle the OU front four. The two-linebacker alignment leaves room if the ‘backers take bad angles – and oh how the Longhorns did against now-departed back Andrew Buie. Oklahoma appears much better, thus far, at proper approaches to the ball, but the Mountaineers can answer that with a deeper stockpile of backs overall, a couple with legit burst. The issue will be if Millard can complete enough midrange downfield passes to loosen the nickel look – which doesn't truly operate like a typical nickel – enough for higher-percentage throws across the face with players on the run.

Stoops has said the Sooners will be multiple in everything they do. The struggle for OU last season was that it had game planned largely for Tavon Austin to be at receiver. When the uber-talent moved to running back, the on-the-fly adjustments were difficult, leading to 49 points – the first team to score anywhere close to that many against Oklahoma since WVU's 48-28 shredding in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. This season, the adjustments and game planning shouldn't be that difficult, mainly because West Virginia is still honing what, exactly, it can do well.

If the Mountaineers can use their horses to establish a reasonable run game, they'll get chances to effectively mix the opportunistic pass. But Oklahoma appears better on defense this season – it allowed ULM just 166 total yards, 38 rushing, in the shutout – and WVU is clearly a lesser offensive team at this time than when the two teams met last year. Avoid turnovers, play field position, be patient and disciplined on both sides of the ball and take opportunistic shots.

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