No. 15 Oklahoma to host No. 23 West Virginia
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield gets another chance to show his skills in a big game.
He already led a dramatic comeback win over then-ranked Tennessee three weeks ago. Now, his 15th-ranked Sooners will host No. 23 West Virginia on Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Mayfield, who ranks among the nation’s leaders in passing offense and total offense, set Oklahoma’s single-game total offense record with 572 yards against Tulsa. A strong performance against West Virginia’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense could vault him toward the top of Heisman Trophy conversations.
Mayfield is trying to keep the attention he already has received in perspective.
”It’s not tough for me,” he said. ”I just have to focus on the game week in and week out. We’re doing pretty good right now.”
Mayfield’s elusiveness and running skills have drawn comparisons to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Because of that, Oklahoma’s passing game is now as much of a concern for the Mountaineers as the Sooners’ running game.
”He is fun to watch,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ”He keeps it alive as good as anyone in the country. He has a talented, live arm. He can also run the ball, so it starts with him.”
Here are some things to watch on Saturday:
PERINE THE PUNISHER: Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine introduced himself to the college football world last year against the Mountaineers when the bruising freshman rumbled for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the Sooners’ 45-33 win.
”It was the difference in the game, especially in the second half,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen doesn’t expect a repeat.
”I think we are more capable of being able to stop the run now than we were at that point with the evolution of this defense a year ago,” he said.
DEFENSIVE MIRAGE? West Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense (7.7 points per game), and safety Karl Joseph is tied for the national lead with four interceptions, but the Mountaineers have played Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland. The Sooners rank 10th nationally in total offense and eighth in yards passing per game. They gained 773 yards in their last game two weekends ago against Tulsa, their highest output since 1988.
TURNOVER BATTLE: West Virginia leads the nation in turnover margin (+3.0 per game) while Oklahoma ranks 117th out of 127 FBS schools. The Sooners have forced just two turnovers all year. Oklahoma cornerback Zach Sanchez believes the Sooners will start forcing turnovers soon.
”I think we’ve had our hands on a few balls,” he said. ”We’ve have three or four fumbles out that we needed to get on top of. They are there. It’s just the point of finishing the plays and actually getting the ball. I think we’re right there.”
OKLAHOMA DBs: Oklahoma surrendered 427 yards passing in its last outing two weekends ago against Tulsa, and now the Sooners face West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard and an offense that averages 323 yards passing per game. The Sooners will need to pay extra attention to Shelton Gibson, who averages 27.4 yards on 12 receptions.
BIG-TIME SMALLWOOD: West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood has rushed for 334 yards and has 10 catches for 70 yards in three games. He will be a key focus for Oklahoma’s defense.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .