Last year’s conference opener against Oklahoma was a game the West Virginia defensive line, and defense as a whole, would probably like to forget. The Mountaineers were gashed by a then-relatively unknown freshman running back Samaje Perine for 242 yards and four scores on the ground. On the day, WVU gave up 510 total yards in a 45-33 loss to the No. 4 Sooners in Morgantown.
Were it not for a porous outing from its defense, West Virginia could have had a top-five upset in the bag, and could have put its season on a completely different trajectory. This weekend, the Mountaineers get another crack at the Sooners, with the bad taste of last year’s long still lingering.
“It was last year, so I have a short term memory loss when it comes to games. I watch the film, and I learn from it, but then it’s on to the next game for me. We will watch last year’s film and see what they did,” said redshirt senior defensive lineman Kyle Rose said.
What they do Saturday will look a lot different. The Sooners have a new offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley, and a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield to boot. With Riley at the helm, the Sooner offense has a new look, and it has been potent through the first three weeks of the season.
“I think you have to take into account that they didn’t bring him in there to not do what he does," defensive line coach Bruce Tall said. "You have to study everything he does, and he is a very intelligent coach that has done very well everywhere he has been. You have to break him down and figure out how to attack him, so we can get done what we need to get done,”
With playmakers like Mayfield, Perine and wide receiver Sterling Shepard, the Sooners have weapons all over the field, and have been able to have their way with opposing defenses for the most part. Oklahoma has employed a quick-strike, up-tempo style early this season that has put plenty of teams on their heels. West Virginia’s defense spends all week competing against a similar attack taking on its own offense in practice, which Tall said gives the Mountaineers an advantage in preparation.
“They know how to finish things, and they know how to utilize their talent. They make you play fast, which is our style, because we’re used to that. It doesn’t throw us off like it would any other team. You have to stay ready when you play a team like this,” Tall said.
To complement their arsenal of skill position players, the Sooners boast an offensive line with NFL-quality talent, anchored by senior center Ty Darlington. After Darlington and the Sooner line paved the way for 301 rushing yards by OU’s tailbacks against WVU last season, Rose said he knows he and the defensive line have a major challenge ahead of them.
“I do remember particular guys that I went against since we have that relationship of me playing over top of him the entire game," Rose said. "I do remember centers, especially if it is in the Big 12 because we played against them multiple times throughout my career. I do know Ty Darlington, and I know he’s a good center. I am excited for it, because it’s a great test for me, and I’m ready for it."