Defenses enter picture as No. 14 Oklahoma visits West Virginia
No. 14 Oklahoma and West Virginia have never played much defense against each other.
In the eight meetings since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012, the teams have combined to score an average of 78 points per game.
The Sooners — winners each time — have scored at least 44 points seven times, while the Mountaineers have scored at least 49 twice.
The offenses are still explosive entering Saturday’s meeting at West Virginia, but this time the defenses are also formidable.
The Mountaineers (5-3, 4-3 Big 12) lead the conference in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game and are 13th nationally.
“There’s just not a ton of weaknesses,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “You don’t look at the film and say, ‘Well, they’re really good at this or really bad at that.’ There’s not really anything they’re bad at … Every part of them is challenging.”
The Sooners (6-2, 5-2 Big 12) are second in the league in yards allowed at 326 per game and third in scoring defense (23.0).
Both defensive fronts have been keys to the success of those units.
“Their front four is imposing,” Mountaineers coach Neal Brown said. “They are probably the best front four in our league. (Oklahoma defensive end) Ronnie Perkins on Saturday night played at an elite level.”
Perkins has been a big boost to the Sooners’ defense after returning from a suspension three games ago. He’s had 3.5 sacks, including two in last week’s 41-13 win over Oklahoma State, and his impact has gone far beyond the numbers.
“Everybody feeds off of him,” Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown said. “He’s a force. Just to have the whole defense back as a group and him being the leader he is and see him making plays and being like a strike of lightning, we all just feed off of that.”
West Virginia hopes its defense gets a boost this week after Josh Chandler-Semedo missed the 24-6 win over TCU Nov. 14 due to injury. Chandler-Semedo is fourth on the team in tackles with 46.
While the defenses could play a much bigger factor than they have recently, both teams are still very good offensively.
Like the Sooners’ defense, the offense has gotten a big boost from the addition of a formerly suspended player.
In the three games since his return, running back Rhamondre Stevenson has rushed for 332 yards and five touchdowns, while adding nine catches for 127 yards.
It also has helped that redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler has settled in, throwing just one interception in the past 4 1/2 games after being benched briefly in the first half Oct. 10 against Texas.
“They are playing as good as any offense in the country right now,” Brown said. “Are they better than last year? I don’t know. They were pretty damn good last year, too.”
While Rattler was expected to be excellent — he was in the top five in many Heisman Trophy odds heading into the season despite not having started at the college level — West Virginia’s Jarret Doege has been a bit of a surprise.
Doege is averaging nearly 280 yards per game through the air and has thrown just three interceptions.
“You don’t see him force balls into coverage, whether it’s man or zone,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “He’s confident in where he’s directing the football.”
— Field Level Media