Since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 two things have become evident, the conference championship runs through Lawrence, Kansas in basketball and Norman, Oklahoma in football. If the Mountaineers hope to win a conference title in either major sport those are the two schools that must be defeated. West Virginia will have its opportunity to do just that when the Sooners (8-2, 7-0 Big 12) come to town on Saturday night. But of course it won't be easy, the Sooners have defeated the Mountaineers Morgantown in Morgantown in their last two attempts and both happened to be night games as well.
This year is different though, as the Mountaineers are experiencing levels of success not before seen since joining conference play and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has taken note of the improved Mountaineers team.
"Offensively they're very physical and tough running the football," Stoops noted. "They have big play potential outside with those receivers. On defense they're very aggressive and they make a lot of plays. They're really good on both sides of the ball and they play really hard and physical."
Of the two units the Mountaineers' defense has been more consistent of late and is making waves around the conference. Stoops dissected what makes the West Virginia defense so successful and credited both the blitz packages and the variety of plays that are available from the 3-3-5 look.
"You have to give Tony (Gibson) a lot of credit for the 3-3-5 scheme and the 50 front," Stoops said. "They're very active and they're going to blitz you from different ways and they will drop out with eight and cover you. They just do a nice job of mixing it up and they have got their players to play confidently and make plays."
While the defense has been exceptional against some of the most prolific air-raid offenses in the country, this week will pose a unique challenge: shutting down Oklahoma standout receiver Dede Westbrook, who over the course of the last month has emerged as the best receiver in the nation. In the last seven contests Westbrook has hauled in 14 touchdown passes and went for over 100 yards in all but one contest. Stoops said the emergence of Westbrook is due to having a year of experience and finally becoming 100 percent healthy.
"Having a year of experience has made a difference and earlier in the year he wasn't fully healthy," Stoops said. "He had a pulled muscle and wasn't fully healed in our first three or four games."
Of course, as Stoops noted, Westbrook's natural talent doesn't hurt either.
"He has speed," Stoops said. "He has speed and runs good routes. He's quick and he has great hands."
But Westbrook's not the only skill player that the Mountaineers will have their hands full with on Saturday. Sooner running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are two of the better backs in the conference if not the country and quarterback Baker Mayfield has been outstanding as well. Saturday night's contest could very well come down to whether or not the Mountaineers defense can slow down the plethora of talented sooner skill players, but you can say the same thing about every other week as well. That's just life in the Big 12.