Backup QBs at forefront of Oklahoma-West Virginia matchup (Nov 25, 2017)
NORMAN, Okla. -- At one point not long ago, the game between No. 4 Oklahoma and West Virginia would have featured one of the best quarterback matchups in college football.
But the matchup won't be between Baker Mayfield and Will Grier.
Instead, Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) will start Kyler Murray at quarterback after Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy favorite, was stripped of his captaincy for the game and benched for the start of the contest following last week's crotch-grabbing, profanity-laced tirade directed toward the Kansas sideline.
The Mountaineers (7-4, 5-3) will start Chris Chugunov at quarterback after Grier suffered a finger and hand injury diving for the pylon in last week's game against Texas.
But while Mayfield will play -- Sooners coach Lincoln Riley wouldn't say how long Mayfield would sit -- Grier will not only miss the game but is unlikely to return for the Mountaineers' bowl game.
Grier finishes the regular season having completed 250 of 388 passes for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
Chugunov hadn't seen game action since mid-September before coming on in relief of Grier against the Longhorns. He threw for 189 yards and a touchdown after Grier's first-quarter injury.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he wasn't worried about how Chugunov would perform in such a big spot.
"He knows what to do," Holgorsen said. "He's been here for three years. He's smart. He's a 4.0 student. He's got a lot of reps through spring and camp. ... He's ready to go.
"I was happy with the way he competed last week. It's just timing and reps."
West Virginia will want to run the ball behind Justin Crawford, who averages 87.5 yards per game, third in the Big 12. Oklahoma's run defense has steadily improved in recent weeks, allowing an average of 140.0 yards per game. A big key to that has been the development of linemen Du'Vonta Lampkin and Amani Bledsoe as well as the continued improvement of middle linebacker Kenneth Murray.
On the other side at quarterback, Murray has been in this kind of situation before.
As a true freshman at Texas A&M in 2015, Murray started three games before the five-star recruit decided to transfer to Oklahoma.
"It's not gonna be too much different," Murray said. "Just a different jersey."
Murray said he wasn't sure how long he'd play, but that he wanted to make the most of his time before Mayfield retakes the reins of the offense.
For his part, Mayfield said he'll do what he can to help Murray early in the game.
"It's going to be tough for me because I always want to be that guy playing," Mayfield said. "But when it comes down to it, I want to win. That's the No. 1 thing for me.
"I'm still going to be practicing. I'm still going to be out there with those guys. Whenever I go in or whatever situation it is, I need to be ready as well."
Holgorsen said he didn't anticipate much difference in Oklahoma's offense under Murray. The Sooners lead the nation with 588.7 yards per game and are fifth in scoring with an average of 44.0 points. They have three receivers with 649 or more receiving yards.
Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson has rushed for 77 or more yards in each of Oklahoma's last five games after playing sparingly early in the season. Three more yards rushing by Trey Sermon would give the Sooners two running backs with 600 or more rushing yards.
"Offensively, it's the most efficient team that I've seen in a long time," Holgorsen said. "The guy behind him (Mayfield) is every bit as good, if you can believe that. They won't change much regardless of who's in there."
For Oklahoma, a berth in the College Football Playoff is on the line both this week and next week in the Big 12 title game.
For West Virginia, there isn't quite as much riding on the game but the Mountaineers want positive momentum heading into bowl preparation.
"This season changes drastically if we can go win this one," Holgorsen said. "No one expects us to win.
"You get an opportunity to be able to play football this week against that team, you should be pretty jacked up about it. ...
"What have we got to lose? Let's go play ball; let's have fun. Let's rally around Chugs. Let's play our tails off."