Match-ups: WVU - Oklahoma

Elimination of mind-numbing mistakes and establishment of a running game are among the critical keys in West Virginia's quest to knock off Oklahoma.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 11/17/12 7:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 5-4
BCS: NR
Last Game
Ok St 34-55 L
TV: FOX
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 7-2
BCS: 12
Last Game
Baylor 42-34 W
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: Tied 2-2
First Meeting: 1958
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

Oklahoma defensive front vs. WVU offensive line

Teams can occasionally get away with a win without a good rushing game, but that doesn't figure to be the case as the Sooners visit the Mountain State. Oklahoma's outstanding pass defense, coupled with lessons learned from the tactics used to slow West Virginia's passing offense, mean likely struggles for the WVU passing attack. Oklahoma will often play a 4-1 front and dare foes to run, believing that the limitation of big plays in the passing game will lead to a win.

The Sooners have had up-and-down success against the run with those tactics. They limited Texas to 74 yards and Texas Tech to 89, but have also given up a combined 1,072 yards on the ground to five other foes. That's the weakness, or the hole, in the Sooners defensive game plan, and WVU has to be able to exploit it.

West Virginia's offensive line has to be able to win man-on-man battles in the trenches. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has noted his dissatisfaction with the line's ability to hold blocks, and the shuffling that has occurred up front over the past few weeks provides further support to the view that the line isn't performing as it must. Watch WVU's line even after the ball is handed off. Is it sustaining blocks? Or are defensive linemen getting free and making tackles?


SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

While mistakes of all sorts have plagued the Mountaineers this year, it's the mental errors that have played the biggest part in their 5-4 record.

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In trying to nail down and correct these problems, the coaching staff has been faced with a different set of errors each week, which has to be maddening to the extreme. If it were mistakes in just one play phase, additional attention could be focused each week on the problem area. However, with mental gaffes bouncing from offense to defense to special teams, the coaches just haven't been able to get a handle on correcting them all.

The bigger question facing the team is this: Can it find a way to concentrate and play smart football after exhibiting a woeful lack in that portion of the game week after week? It would seem that repeated practice sessions, film reviews and talks would drive those points home, but that simply hasn't happened. Does WVU have the ability to finally put a smart game together?

If this doesn't happen, the 2012 season will be remembered for two things: poor pass defense, and undisciplined play. Either makes winning a challenge. Combined, they spell losing streaks of record proportions.


THINGS TO WATCH

If Dana Holgorsen is serious about playing those players who are dedicating to putting forth effort for the team and the school, and not just for themselves, then we should see more than a change or two in the starting lineup. Ryan Nehlen and Connor Arlia certainly proved themselves last week against Oklahoma State, and they should probably have some new company this week.

Watch the starting lineups, but also keep an eye on substitutions on the next few drives. Who's in on the offensive line? At linebacker? At cornerback? There shouldn't be any hesitancy this week to make changes, based on the post-game comments from both players and coaches after the Oklahoma State loss. If those aren't made, it will call into question just how serious Holgorsen is at addressing this critical issue.

* * *

Against pass-happy Baylor, Oklahoma often played seven defensive backs. The tactic helped the Sooners hold the Bears to just 172 passing yards and forced 20 incompletions in 33 attempts. Baylor, however, was able to run against the back-loaded set, and racked up 252 yards on the ground.

While Holgorsen has noted that WVU must win one-on-one battles with the OU secondary, will many of those really come about? West Virginia's anemic running game probably doesn't worry the Sooners very much, so it won't be a surprise to see them play six or seven DBs on most snaps.

Watch Oklahoma's lineup from the start, and see how many corners and safeties are on the field, Those safeties will also be key in run support, but if West Virginia can't make the Sooners pay fro replacing linebackers with DBs, it's going to be a long evening.

* * *

The turnover battle is important in every game. But in this one, where the Mountaineers are a decided underdog, it might be at the top of the list of "must haves" for a WVU win. Oklahoma hasn't been terrible in protecting the ball, but it has dumped it 13 times, while recovering just two opponent fumbles.

In addition to keeping the ball secure, West Virginia must force OU to give the ball up. It will likely take a +2 or +3 margin for the Mountaineers to pull off the upset. WVU can't play it safe in this game -- it has to get to the quarterback and perhaps force a fumble or an errant throw with big hits, and it will also have to go for strips at every opportunity.


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