Oklahoma’s defensive players had an extra week to listen to the chatter about how terrible they were.
The Sooners allowed 603 yards to Tulsa in a shootout victory two weeks ago, and through the bye week, fans and critics wondered if the 15th-ranked Sooners were ready for conference play.
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Oklahoma provided a resounding answer Saturday, collecting seven sacks and forcing five turnovers in a 44-24 win over No. 23 West Virginia.
Linebacker Eric Striker led the charge. He had 13 tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss, and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that Jordan Evans returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought we had a good week of practice and I thought you could see it in everybody’s eyes," Striker said. "We really wanted to do good, and everybody wanted a piece of them (the Mountaineers). Not much talking to do. We were really ready to go from the jump."
Jordan Thomas intercepted two passes and Evans had nine tackles for the Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12).
Oklahoma had forced just two turnovers before Saturday’s game.
"We needed to come out today and be tough, be more physical and be the better team, especially on defense to get turnovers," Striker said. "That was one thing we were emphasizing in practice all week."
Skyler Howard threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles for the Mountaineers, who had committed just two turnovers in their first three games. Wendell Smallwood ran for 111 yards for the Mountaineers (3-1, 0-1), who had their moments but hurt themselves repeatedly with turnovers and penalties.
Baker Mayfield passed for 320 yards and three touchdowns, Dede Westbrook caught five passes for 107 yards and Durron Neal added 87 yards receiving for the Sooners.
The chippy contest featured a combined 245 yards in penalties and plenty of pushing and shoving. During pregame warmups, players from both teams were seen jawing at each other. It did not sit well with the home team.
"They came in, and it was really disrespectful and I really didn’t approve of it," Westbrook said. "You don’t come into someone’s house and disrespect us the way that they did. And we pretty much showed them with our game."
The Mountaineers came in with the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense, surrendering just 7.7 points per game. Mark Andrews’ 17-yard touchdown reception from Mayfield with 8:45 left in the first quarter were the first points West Virginia allowed in the first half of a game this season.
Mayfield connected with Sterling Shepard for a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, and Joe Mixon’s 25-yard scoring run late in the first half sent the Sooners into the break with a 24-7 lead. Oklahoma scored more points in the first half than West Virginia allowed in its first three games.
The Mountaineers closed the gap in the third quarter. A spectacular touchdown grab by Jovon Durante cut Oklahoma’s lead to 24-14. A fumble by Westbrook led to a short Josh Lambert field goal that made it 24-17 midway through the third quarter.
After the Sooners took a 27-17 lead, West Virginia went for it on fourth-and-2, and Howard kept on the read option and strolled 50 yards for a touchdown. Mayfield responded with a 71-yard scoring strike to Neal to put the Sooners up 34-24.
West Virginia tried to keep up, but Striker stripped Howard, and Oklahoma’s Evans scooped the ball up and ran it back for a touchdown to put the Sooners ahead by 17 with just under 10 minutes to play.
"I thought we played well in the third quarter after a bad first half, but their defense was better than us in the fourth quarter," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.