Early tests prepare WVU for Oklahoma

There's a confidence level about the West Virginia football team that hasn't been seen in quite some time as the Mountaineers prepare for this weekend's Big 12 Conference opener against No. 4 Oklahoma.

The Mountaineers (2-1) scheduled one of the most challenging non-conference slates in all of college football, taking on the likes of No. 3 Alabama and Maryland within the first three weeks of the season to prepare for what's to come with the daunting task that is battling through the Big 12 schedule. Coming away with mostly positive results, and even plenty of positives to take from the loss to the Crimson Tide, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen feels his team is in a good place heading into Saturday night's matchup against the Sooners.

"We're completely different. We're a lot different than we were the last time we played in Norman. We're in a much different place offensively," Holgorsen said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. "They're well-coached and have great athletes, but it'll be a challenge that I think we're in a much better position than we were in last year to be able to compete."

The last time the two schools faced off at night in Morgantown was two years ago, as the Sooners escaped Milan Puskar Stadium and survived a historic performance from Tavon Austin with a 50-49 victory. Holgorsen said he expects to see a similar atmosphere Saturday night as the Mountaineers kick off Big 12 play.

"It will be as good as any atmosphere in college football. Our guys will be fired up for it, our fan base is going to be excited," he said. "We'll be having a good time. It'll be as good as anywhere. There will be plenty of people fired up about the game and I think everybody will be looking forward to it."

But in order for West Virginia to be successful against the Sooners and find a way to win the game, it will have to take some of the things it learned and struggled with through the first three games and improve quickly, while continuing to build on what it has done well. The first order of business will likely be on special teams, where the Mountaineers had a handful of blunders Saturday against the Terrapins that helped an early 28-6 lead slip away.

"I wouldn't say our special teams struggled," Holgorsen said. "You've got to give Maryland some credit, they do a great job with their return game and their specialists. We took some lumps, we didn't do the best we wanted to when it comes to that area, but we knew we were going to have a challenge and it's going to be the same thing this week.

"Oklahoma does a great job too, they've got great returners, great specialists and then they have great athletes who can put themselves in position to be successful in that phase. I like our schemes, Coach (Joe) DeForest is as good as anybody in the country and we will come up with a good plan.

On the injury front, Holgorsen said his team is in good shape and should be close to full health when Oklahoma comes into town.

"(Rushel Shell) is good. He'll be ready to go," Holgorsen said. "We're healthier than we were a week ago. Wes (Tonkery) should be back and no one was added to the list."

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