Face-to-Face: OU vs. West Virginia

The shootout in Norman could be decided in the air

Unlike last year, it seems like Oklahoma’s offense can be the ultimate equalizer for the Sooners. The balanced passing attack, which answered the late call against Tennessee and ran Tulsa out of the stadium, is so dangerous, even if it has be more run than pass.

It’ll have to be the ultimate Band-Aid this season because every other unit – and even the passing game – has struggled at times. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the receiving corps just have that ability to change the game the fastest.

That’s key Saturday because the best of West Virginia’s defense is on the back end. And the Oklahoma receiving corps is getting better with each passing week.

“We’re getting better, I know that,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “We’re better than we were the first week. We’re a heck of a lot better than we were against Tennessee, but this will be a game that shows some of that. . . . Against a defense that’s this good and this experienced, you’ve got to be very, very sharp with what you do.”

The confidence for the receiving corps is growing and four players are on pace for more than 700 receiving yards this season. Sterling Shepard has a realistic shot at 1,300 yards.

Against West Virginia, the Sooners will have to be sharp. Karl Joseph is a rangy free safety and a four-year starter. Daryl Worley is also back at cornerback after being suspended for last year’s game with Oklahoma.

This will be the toughest test for the Sooners by far.

>To win, Mayfield might have to go deep – probably his self-proclaimed specialty.

“We’ve had some guys that are starting to get confidence and step up, because they know that there’s going to be those opportunities,” Riley said. “So I think it goes hand in hand. They’re putting in the work and the system is making them better, too.”

That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:

When Oklahoma has the ball. . .

Sooners’ rushing attack vs. WVU front seven (six): Nobody will forget last year’s game against the Mountaineers, certainly not running back Samaje Perine, who used the game as a coming-out party.

The Mountaineers are averaging just more than 150 yards allowed on the ground this season, about middle of the pack in the country. Oklahoma is in the middle of the pack in rushing offense.

It’ll be another great chance for the Sooners’ offensive line to take another step in its development. West Virginia, which consistently plays a 3-3-5, will throw a bunch of exotic blitzes at Oklahoma. The Mountaineers average less than two sacks per game but are in the top-25 in the nation with 7.7 tackles for loss.

Karl Joseph vs. Ty Darlington and Baker Mayfield: There will be a little gamesmanship and a little cat-and-mouse Saturday between the experience dcaptain of the West Virginia defense and the Oklahoma leadership on defense. What makes Saturday’s mental game extra special is that it’s between two former high school teammates.

While Mayfield will make most of the audibles, Darlington will play a role in trying to beat his former teammate. Darlington even made a joking point that he’d like to get a shot or two in on Joseph – laughing when he said even if it means running the opposite direction on a screen play.

Against an experienced defense like West Virginia, getting into the right play will be big. Whichever team can gain a small edge before the play starts will have an obvious advantage. A battle of checks and re-checks is sure to take place at Owen Field.

When West Virginia has the ball. . .

Oklahoma secondary vs. Skyler Howard: Until the Sooners’ pass defense can prove that it isn’t a liability, it’ll always catch a little bit of the spotlight – if not the entire spotlight. Howard isn’t proven, but he’s got a ton of weapons around him.

In fact, he’s already eclipsed his previous career totals in completions, yards and touchdowns through just three games this season. He hasn’t really been tested, yet. It sounds a bit strange, but Oklahoma might be the best secondary he has seen this season.

The Sooners have the best athletes on the back end that Howard has seen all year.

The goal for Oklahoma is to make Howard think. Forget about completion percentage, yards or touchdown passes. If Howard has to go to his second and third options, it should be a win for the Sooners in this category.

Turnover battle: This is important every game – except that the Oklahoma has re-written that hard-and-fast rule this season. There’s a talent gap that has given the Sooners a buffer in turnover margin that won’t be around any more.

West Virginia has the highest turnover margin in the country and is tied for third in turnovers created. Oklahoma is second-to-last with just two in three games.

It’s really as simple as that.

Oklahoma needs to win this battle for the rest of the season – at least against talented teams.

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