(4) Oklahoma (3-0) at West Virginia (2-1) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Big 12 Conference action gets underway for the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooner on Saturday night, as they hit the road to challenge the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Oklahoma had very little trouble dispatching with its three non-conference opponents, thwarting the upset bids of Louisiana Tech (48-16), Tulsa (52-7) and Tennessee (34-10). As a result, the Sooners have won seven straight games, dating back to last season, which is the second-longest active winning streak in the nation. A win in this contest would give OU head coach Bob Stoops his 100th regular season Big 12 victory.
West Virginia had the unenviable task of taking on another top-5 foe in Alabama to start the season, and the Mountaineers put forth a solid showing in losing to the Crimson Tide in Atlanta, 33-23. Coach Dana Holgorsen's squad rebounded to take down both Towson (54-0) and Maryland (40-37), setting it up favorably as it prepares for the start of Big 12 play.
Both teams will have byes next week, with OU returning to action on Oct 4 at TCU, and WVU at home versus Kansas the same day.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series with West Virginia, 4-2, which includes a tough 16-7 triumph last year in Norman.
Oklahoma's offense has been clicking right along, but the team received some bad news recently when it was announced that leading rusher Keith Ford (194 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards, six total TDs) will miss this game, and possibly more, after sustaining a leg injury late in last Saturday's win over Tennessee.
Despite the loss of Ford, the Sooners shouldn't miss a beat as they have several other talented guys ready to step up, including Samaje Perine (177 yards, one TD) and Alex Ross (132 yards, three TDs). They will also lean more on the passing game, which Trevor Knight has managed rather effectively by completing roughly 60 percent of his throws for 860 yards, four TDs and two INTs. The receiving corps features skilled playmakers as well, with Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal both logging double-digit catches and more than 100 receiving yards. Shepard has a pair of scoring grabs.
Oklahoma is putting up 44.7 ppg while permitting just 11.0 ppg. The Sooners are outgaining the opposition by nearly 200 yards (490 to 295.3 ypg), and they have done a masterful job stuffing the run (86.7 ypg, no TDs) when on defense. They have forced eight turnovers, and recorded nine sacks.
Dominique Alexander paces the unit with 22 tackles, while Chuka Ndulue and Quentin Hayes have two sacks apiece. Zack Sanchez is averaging an interception per game, the team coming up with six picks on the year.
The Sooners put forth a workmanlike effort in last week's win over Tennessee, churning out 454 yards of total offense, compared to 313 for the Volunteers.
Knight threw for 308 yards with a score and an interception, hitting Shepard five times for 109 yards. Neal finished with a game-high seven catches for 71 yards. Perine paced the ground attack with 67 yards, Ford tallied 56 yards and a score, and Knight even found the end zone on a short run early in the third quarter.
Julian Wilson made sure the defense had a hand in the scoring, as he returned a fourth-quarter interception 100 yards for a touchdown. Alexander tallied 12 tackles, Hayes had a pair of sacks, and Wilson added two pass breakups to his long scoring play.
Stoops, while also giving credit to Tennessee, heaped praise upon his team for the effort last week.
"I was really pleased with our overall play. I want to compliment Butch Jones and his staff. I really think they are doing an excellent job there at Tennessee. They have a lot of good football players on their team. Overall, I'm just excited about the way our guys have played. Really, for the most part, we're playing really smart and with good discipline."
Save for the blowout of FCS foe Towson, West Virginia's road to a winning record has been a bit tougher than Oklahoma's. The Mountaineers are averaging 39 points and 564.3 yards per game, but they allow 23.3 points and nearly 400 yards per contest.
Clint Trickett has been impressive in the early stages of the campaign, hitting the mark on 75.4 percent of his passes for a total of 1,224 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception. Trickett has spread the ball around, with a dozen guys having at least one catch. Kevin White leads the way with 32 receptions for 460 yards and two TDs, while Mario Alford has 21 grabs for 206 yards and three scores.
Rushel Shell spearheads WVU's rushing attack with 207 yards and two TDs, and he has logged more then twice as many carries as his closet teammate (Wendell Smallwood, 23).
Defensively, the Mountaineers are led by the tandem of Karl Joseph and Nick Kwiatkoski with 24 tackles apiece. Kwiatkoski and Isaiah Bruce are tied for the team lead with three TFL each, while Daryl Worley has a pair of picks. Those interceptions are the only two takeaways WVU has registered this season.
It was announced on Monday that Worley is suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Junior Ricky Rumph is listed as his replacement.
West Virginia more then doubled Maryland's first down total last week (33-16), and the Mountaineers rolled up a staggering 694 yards, compared to 447 for the Terrapins.
Four WVU turnovers, including three fumbles, allowed the Terps to hang around, as did a solid effort, both rushing and passing, by UM quarterback C.J. Brown. As for WVU's offensive performers, Trickett stood out with his 37-of-49 showing for a whopping 511 yards and four scores. White finished with 13 grabs for 216 yards and a TD, while Alford added 11 catches for 131 yards and two scores. Shell rumbled his way to 98 yards and a TD, but the Mountaineers averaged just 3.1 yards per run play.
Kwiatkoski paced the defense with a dozen stops.
Holgorsen was pleased with last week's outcome, and rightfully so.
"I just couldn't be happier for our team, coaching staff, our fan base, everyone needed this one. What a game, I don't know if I've ever been part of a game that had so many drastic momentum swings. I'm just proud of our team, that we were able to get the victory at the end."
Despite the solid effort displayed by the Mountaineers to this point in the season, they are going to have their hands full in this one. Now that's not to say the Sooners are going to come into hostile territory and cruise to victory. But they are the better team, and should be able to stave off the upset-minded Mountaineers, thus keeping their hopes of reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff alive.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma 34, West Virginia 24