The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - Oklahoma Game

Despite the early morning start in Norman, Okla., we're still here with our final list of observations, notes and thoughts as West Virginia prepares to face Oklahoma in a battle of Big 12 unbeatens.

A year after giving up 108 plays to West Virginia and complaining about it, Maryland yielded “just” 96 to the Mountaineers in 2015. That's still the second-highest total of plays run by a Dana Holgorsen team. The Terps' whining aside, that number figures to be appreciably lower against Oklahoma for a couple of reasons. First, the Sooners have their own high-powered offense, so they won't be giving up the ball as quickly as Maryland did. Second, even though OU hasn't been quite as good on defense as its coaches would like, they are going to get a few stops – again, a number exceeding what WVU's first opponents achieved.

With that in mind, what is a good goal for this game? If WVU can approach 80, that likely gives it a reasonable chance to win. Seventy or lower, and that's a strong indicator for Sooner success. In the middle of that range? Still an OU advantage. Of course, other factors figure into play totals, with turnovers early in drives and big plays that lead to quick scores being just two. West Virginia fans would likely accept five touchdown drives that consume an average of five plays each, because in the end it's points, not plays, that tell the score. Still, Holgorsen prizes big play and first down totals

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It's often the case that statistics can be used and abused to make most any particular point you want, but there is often insight to be gained from the numbers as well. One of the things that stands out in the “Tale of the Tape” comparing the stats of the Sooners and Mountaineers is the relative closeness of the numbers in may areas. WVU holds an advantage in points allowed and turnover margin, but other than that the figures in many major statistical categories are very close. Does that portend a game that goes down to the wire?

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Over the last 13 seasons, West Virginia has won 107 games, good for a quite spiffy tie at #15 in the nation among Division I schools. Clemson, Missouri and Northern Illinois also currently hold that number, with Nebraska and BYU one and two behind, respectively. WVU trials #14 Utah (109 wins) and Auburn (110), in a tightly bunched race.

Near the top of the board sits Oklahoma, holding down the #2 spot with 128 wins over the same period. The Sooners trail just Boise State (140) for the most wins over the triskadecaphobic tenure. Schedule strength aside, that is a great indicator of long-term, consistent success.

Oh, and by the way, the Sooners have lost just eight games at home over the same 13 years. That makes for a lot of happy tailgates.

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Oklahoma has thrown the ball very well this year, to say the least. Baker Mayfield, who was tagged with some doubt after previous ballyhooed OU quarterbacks fell short of expectations, has been outstanding, averaging 371 passing yards per game. However, the feeling here is that the Sooners might try to ramp up their running game first.

There's the carryover factor from a year ago, when Samaje Perrine burst onto the national scene, rushing for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries to help power OU to a win in Morgantown. After a solid, if unexciting, 2015 start, the hope may be that WVU sparks a similar eruption from Perrine in Norman.

There's also West Virginia's rushing defense to look at. Overall the Mountaineers look ok, but they are yielding an even four yards per carry through three games. That number, though, includes passing-challenged Georgia Southern, which couldn't complete a throw to save its life, thus allowing WVU to stack the box against its rushing game. West Virginia gave up six yards per carry to Maryland, which likewise struggled in the passing game, and that has to be both a concern for the Mountaineers and a viewed opportunity for Oklahoma.

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West Virginia's October road schedule of Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU is the toughest such stretch in the league, but OU's finishing kick is no cakewalk either. After enjoying a nicely set-up start to the league schedule, the Sooners finish with a road trip to Baylor, TCU, and then the emotion-charged Bedlam visit to Oklahoma State.

Maybe, as one coach recently pointed out, the Big 12 is much tougher than it gets credit for nationally.

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