For the third-straight year, West Virginia and Oklahoma are set to open the Big 12 season against one another, and the 2015 conference opener figures to provide the most even-matched contest of the three.
The No. 15 Sooners and No. 23 Mountaineers each made it through the non-conference portion of their season unscathed, and both have impressed on their way to 3-0 starts.
Head coach Bob Stoops’ team put up the conference’s most impressive road win of the season so far on the road in double overtime against Tennessee in Week 2, and put up gargantuan offensive statistics in their other two wins: 41-3 against Akron and 52-38 against Tulsa.
There is a new look to the Sooner offense this season, with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield taking the snaps in new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley’s system.
After spending five years in the same role at East Carolina, where he helped head coach Ruffin McNeill turn the Pirates into a top-five offense in the country, Riley was hired earlier this year to bring life to an OU offense that had gone stale.
It has worked so far, as Mayfield has thrown for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns and the Sooners have racked up 553.3 yards per game as an offense.
“I’m just really pleased with the direction of the offense. It’s still way early. We’ve been inconsistent overall, but I do, again, believe in what Lincoln’s doing. I believe our players will continue to improve and get better at it as we go,” Stoops said.
“Baker Mayfield has had some really good games, struggled some against Tennessee, but found a way in the fourth quarter to really come on. It’s early, but I’m pleased with it, but I believe there’s a lot more to come.”
While Oklahoma has done it with offense, West Virginia, though it has played well on offense, has been carried by its defense so far.
The Mountaineers rank second in the conference in total defense behind Oklahoma State, and have the best pass defense in the Big 12 through three weeks.
Push will come to shove this week, as Mayfield’s gunslinger, Johnny Manziel-esque style of play will be tested against West Virginia’s hard-nosed, punishing and opportunistic defense.
“They’re very physical. They play hard and they’ve got a lot of speed out there. They try and pressure you. They’ve done an excellent job, really, here to this point,” Stoops said.
Senior safety Karl Joseph is the physical leader of West Virginia’s defense, and Stoops had high praise for the four-year starter before facing off against him for the last time.
“He’s just a great cover guy. He can make plays. He’s smart. He jumps routes. He’s really a good player, an all-around good player. He tackles well. He’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at,” Stoops said.
On a veteran WVU defense, Joseph is the most experienced of them all having been a starter for four seasons. Stoops said having players like Joseph on the field eases your mind as a coach because you know he can cover for his less experienced teammates.
“Those guys are usually the glue. They get everybody on the same page in adjustments. A safety can cover up so many people’s mistakes in the distance he covers and reading quarterbacks. You adjust on double moves to get out to the boundary to protect the corner. He does a lot,” he said.