WVU-OU have continuity
MORGANTOWN – Both host No. 16 Oklahoma as well as visiting West Virginia University will have two things in common when they meet for the sixth time at 7 p.m. Saturday at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
First, the Sooners and the Mountaineers will be playing their earliest Big 12 game in history and, secondly, both schools will have first-year starters at quarterback that are coming off impressive opening game performances.
“He (Trevor Knight) did some things really well, especially with his legs,” veteran OU head coach Bob Stoops said. “Throwing the ball early wasn’t very good, but I expect him to throw the ball better when he gets comfortable.”
West Virginia starter Paul Millard, who came into last Saturday’s season lidlifter versus William & Mary involved in a two-way battle for the position with former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett, looked impressive in his opening drive of the game. But then after looking somewhat uneasy during the remainder of the first half, he led the old gold and blue on three scoring drives in the second half to pull out a 24-17 come-from-behind win.
“He (Millard) did a good job of managing the game,” third-year WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Other than that one play when he took the sack, he did a good job.”
Both signal-callers will have to be at their best Saturday night as the two Big 12 rivals look to open conference play with a victory.
Last year’s game in Morgantown came down to the final possession. WVU had just taken a 49-44 lead on a 40-yard scoring strike from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey with 2:53 left in the game – leaving far too much time for Sooners’ senior QB Landry Jones and standout receiver Kenny Stills.
The duo, which had hooked up for three earlier touchdowns, connected on final time with 24 seconds left on the clock as OU left Milan Puskar Stadium with a 50-49 win.
This year’s game doesn’t have the star power of a year ago, but its importance, as far as the Big 12 race, can’t be forgotten.
West Virginia was selected by the media covering the conference to finish eighth while the Sooners are expected to challenge preseason favorite Oklahoma State for the conference title.
While a loss this early in the season won’t completely end those hopes, it could make a run at the crown a little harder for the loser and somewhat easier for the victor.
“We are aware of the parity which is college football,” said Stoops. “We are also aware of the parity in the Big 12. You can’t take any team lightly. You have to be ready to play your best game every time you take the field or you could find yourself with a loss.”
Something neither team suffered in week one as the Sooners dominated Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0, while WVU needed a last-minute interception by senior Darwin Cook to preserve its 24-17 win over Bill and Mary.
“I thought we got better on all three sides of the ball,” said Holgorsen. “And that’s the overall goal for an opening football game. I don’t care too much about the score.
“Would we have liked to score more? Absolutely. But there are things that happened that we’ll be able to learn from. You can try your hardest to put guys in situations and see how they’re going to respond. But until you do that is a real game, you’re not going to be able to really see how people are going to respond.”
Scoring any points against a Sooners’ prevent unit that put up a zero on the scoreboard in the opening-week whacking of ULM might prove to be the most difficult task on Saturday.
“Yeah, they made some changes, unfortunately for us,” said WVU’s head coach. “They kept a tremendous amount of speed on the field. They seem to be a lot more aggressive and a lot more attacking as they’re blitzing more.
“They look fast, they look good, they look aggressive.”
Words that could just as easily describe the Mountaineers’ defensive unit in the second half against The Tribe. After surrendering 17 points and over 200 yards of total offense during the first 30 minutes, the unit kept the visitors out of the end zone and limited them to less than 110 yards in the second half.
“A lot of what happened was the result of nerves,” WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “In the second half, we played more comfortable. We just started making plays and not busting assignments.”
Two things the unit will have to do regularly on Saturday if WVU wants to get out of Norman with a win.