MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The underdog drumbeat banged strong in the West Virginia team meeting room where a few Mountaineers playfully embraced the opinion of oddsmakers who have made Oklahoma a three-touchdown favorite for Saturday.
“We’re going to lose by 500 points, right?” joked senior safety Darwin Cook. “Or is it 60? Fifty? Twenty-one? Yeah, 21.”
Of course, Vegas isn’t alone in forecasting a Sooners romp.
“Everybody is. Everybody—even the people in Morgantown,” said senior nose guard Shaq Rowell. “Let’s be honest: Nobody is counting on us to win. There’s nothing like having that on your back. I’m ready. I like everybody saying we’re going to lose. More fuel for the fire.”
Rowell’s fire apparently was stoked a bit last weekend by fans left uneasy over West Virginia’s rather unimpressive 24-17 win over William & Mary. The Mountaineers trailed 17-7 at halftime and left the field to boos.
“I didn’t hear anything about it,” Rowell deadpanned. “I’m not going to repeat what I heard. I didn’t hear anything.”
Junior quarterback Paul Millard, whose older brother graduated from Oklahoma, said he was OK with his second career start taking place at historic Memorial Stadium, where the Sooners are anticipating an 88th consecutive sellout.
“Yeah, man, I love challenges. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Millard said. “A lot of people don’t believe in us, and we just want to go out there and prove people wrong.”
When your team is picked eighth in a 10-team league, there is ample opportunity for proving people wrong. Believers may be in short supply, but Cook knew at least one:
Oklahoma also is breaking in a new quarterback, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who like Millard is gearing for start No. 2. Though his debut featured three touchdown passes, Knight did his most damaging work out of the shotgun option, running for 103 yards on 13 carries in a 34-0 spanking of Louisana-Monroe.
“He can run, he can throw, do all different things,” said Cook, setting up his punchline. “Guess everybody feels like he’s going to go for 250 yards. We’ll see on Saturday. What’s he going to be like, Jameis Winston?”
Rowell played along with that doomsday line: “If we don’t do our job, that kid is going to destroy us.”
Against William & Mary, the 305-pound Rowell plugged the middle for a career-high six tackles, and he joked that now he’s “looking forward to having 12 this weekend.”
“Nah, but seriously, I’m just looking forward to doing my job,” he said. “And if I don’t have a tackle and we come out with that W, I’ll be happy.”
Knight won OU’s starting job in preseason camp, outplaying the conventional choice, junior Blake Bell. With an arm that looked intermittently terrific and erratic, Knight completed 11-of-28 passes against Louisiana-Monroe, though Dana Holgorsen said the freshman’s throwing motion appeared sound.
“His completion percentage wasn’t very good, but when I watched the tape, he’s pretty good. He can throw,” Holgorsen said. “I would anticipate him figuring things out and being a very good quarterback for Oklahoma. Hopefully he doesn’t get things figured out this week.”
MAKE HIM RUN
While much of the pregame questioning will focus on Knight’s dual-threat abilities, West Virginia outside linebacker Isaiah Bruce welcomes the prospect of watching Knight in motion.
“We’re going to bring pressure and make him try to beat us with his feet,” said Bruce. “First time, first Big 12 game. It’s a lot of pressure, so let’s get after him and give him more pressure to deal with.”