MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The role of Big 12 defensive coordinator is no easy task. Half of the league’s offenses are scoring more than 32 points per game, and six are netting more than 400 yards a game.
“It’s like drinking water from a fire hose,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “It’s non-stop. You can’t catch your breath.”
Friday night, he gets the whole hydrant.
Oklahoma comes to Milan Puskar Stadium with the country’s most prolific offense, averaging 49.5 points and 567 yards per game. On a micro level, the Sooners pick up 8.8 yards a play.
“This is a very explosive offense. The best that we’ve played all year,” said WVU cornerback Keith Washington. “We’re trying to watch and observe as much as we can.”
Fourth down is rarely a concern for the Sooners. Oklahoma has punted 27 times this year. And for that matter, neither is third down. Nearly 75 percent of their first downs are converted on the first two downs.
“The consistency makes it tough,” said safety Toyous Avery. “They barely get in third-down situations. That’s what we’re trying to get them in. Third-and-long situations.”
The Mountaineers painfully accomplished that same goal against Oklahoma State last week. The Cowboys managed to convert a third-and-20 and third-and-13 on a crucial fourth quarter scoring drive in their 45-41 comeback win. But the disappointment of seeing that 17-point lead slip away is nothing for West Virginia to dwell on.
“That’s just a football thing. Who cares about the last game?” Avery said. “We get to play another one in a couple days.”
It helps that this game is a winner-take-all affair with a trip to the Big 12 championship on the line.
“That’s a championship game right here,” Avery noted.
Oklahoma’s explosiveness starts with quarterback Kyler Murray, a two-sport star who has already been drafted by the Oakland Athletics to play baseball next spring.
“If he’s better at baseball than football, it’s unreal,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “You’re not going to stop him. You’ve just got to contain him.”
Murray has passed for 3,003 yards and 34 touchdowns while averaging 9.1 yards per carry on 91 rushing attempts.
“When he gets out of the pocket, he can throw it on the run either way. He’s different,” Gibson said. “In the pocket, he’s not very tall, so at times he struggles. The test will be to keep him in the pocket.”
If the Mountaineers concentrate more on making Murray a passer than a runner, he has the targets to make them pay. Though West Virginia has likely faced better individual receivers than Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, they’ve yet to run into a better tandem. Brown has 1,021 yards and eight touchdowns, while Lamb has nine scores and 823 yards.
“They’re the best receivers we will go against all year,” Washington said. “But we’re excited for the challenge. It’s the versatility of their speed. The size, a little bit. Just the way the offense meshes together. The scheme is, overall, great.”
The task of slowing the Sooners down is a tall one. Army is the only team to come remotely close, but that was a byproduct of the Cadets controlling tempo with their triple-option offense. Oklahoma still managed 28 points on just 40 offensive snaps.
Linebacker David Long said the Mountaineers have to embrace the challenge.
“It’s a good opportunity ahead of us,” Long said. “If every person wants to be that dawg out there, we’re facing a good team. Everyone is going to have to show up and make good plays.
“On defense we’ve had some sparks where we’ve shown we can make great plays. Last week we made some. But we have to put four quarters together. We don’t have any choice this week.”