Mountaineers Open Big 12 Play Against No. 16 Oklahoma

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia opens its Big 12 conference slate Saturday when it travels to face No. 16 Oklahoma in Norman.

A lot of talk this week has been focused on if it’s to early to play the conference opener in just the second week of the season, but to Bob Stoops, it doesn’t matter to him when his Sooners take on the Mountaineers.

”We had an open date and they had one,” the Oklahoma coach said. ”We feel as far as the season goes, it’s the right thing to do for your program. Otherwise we would have had another open week and then we have an open week in a couple of weeks. It just fit better for us. But, it is challenging. You’ve got be ready, whether it’s a conference game or not.”

In West Virginia’s case, it has a lot to get ready for.

Oklahoma looked strong in a 34-0 victory against the University of Louisiana at Monroe to open its season as its defense forced six three-and-outs and allowed only nine first downs, none of which were rushing.

The offense didn’t look too shabby either.

Trevor Knight became the first freshman to get a start in a season opener for the Sooners since former Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford did it in 2007. Knight ran 13 times for 103 yards and was 11 of 28 passing for 86 yards and three touchdowns in his debut.

”He can run,” Holgorsen said of Knight. ”He’s a talented guy. His completion percentage wasn’t very good, but when I watched the tape, he’s pretty good. He can throw. When you watched a guy in the past and said his completion percentage wasn’t great, he couldn’t throw. He’s a talented quarterback, and he’s going to get better and better.”

Despite that being his first start, Knight already seems to have a favorite target.

Senior receiver Jalen Saunders finished with three catches for 30 yards, with two of those grabs going for scores.

The ground game was solid as well as senior running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay added 109 yards and a score to Oklahoma’s 305 total rush yards.

The third senior in the backfield, fullback Trey Millard, may have totaled only 15 all-purpose yards, but Holgorsen notes Millard may be the most versatile player on the Sooners’ roster.

”He’s a good football player,” Holgorsen said. ”Trey has been there for four years. He’s tough. He can catch high and drive you to the ground. He’s hard to tackle. He’s important with what they’re trying to do. He’s 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. He’s extremely valuable, and he has been for them for several years. Even last year, when they were spreading the ball around, he was very important.”

Senior corner Aaron Colvin leads the Sooners’ defense. Colvin’s name was on several preseason watch lists including the Bednarik, Nagurski and Thorpe.

That could propose a problem for Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard, considering Holgorsen pointed out he’d like to put the ball in the air more this week than in West Virginia’s victory against William & Mary a week ago.

”We’re talking about throwing the ball 30 percent of the time,” Holgorsen said. ”That’s embarrassing. We’re going to try to correct that – that’s for certain. I don’t care much about stats, but we have to be more balanced.”

In his first career start, Millard completed 76 percent of his passes and threw for 237 yards and a score, but the Mountaineers ran 29 passing plays compared to 40 rushing.

Those additional passing plays Holgorsen wants to run against the Sooners certainly will cut into the work load of Charles Sims, who was West Virginia’s leading rusher with 126 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side, the Mountaineers will rely heavily on their linebackers to contain Knight.

”Linebackers are the most important with this OU quarterback,” Holgorsen said. ”You have to be disciplined when there are 85,000 people yelling at you and you just got knocked down. You have to have the ability to understand what we’re trying to do defensively and execute your assignment.

”You can’t play defense with 10 guys. You’ve got to be able to play defense with 11 guys and make sure you’re executing your assignment when things are rough – that’s what mental toughness is all about.

”You can’t ever play a perfect game. That’s impossible. We’re going to have to play well. I’ve been (to Oklahoma) four or five times, and they’re hard to beat at home. They’re hard to beat on the road. They’re a good football team and have been for the 15 years that Stoops has been there.

”Our goal is to win one game a week. That’s all we said last week. We want to improve on all three sides of the ball. When I address the team, I’m going to describe what they’re getting into and make sure they’re prepared to travel, line up and win the game. We’ll do our best to win the game and improve on all three sides of the ball.”