West Virginia faces steep competition in first road test vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

Sports

After notching its first ranked win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers hit the road to open its Big 12 schedule against the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

West Virginia picked up some momentum after starting its season off with a loss, picking up a pair of wins, including that rivalry victory over the Hokies. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is hoping to build some momentum after squeaking out two victories on the year with a massive blowout in between them.

This will be a new challenge for the Mountaineers this season, however. Not only are they facing their first Big 12 opponent of the season, but they are looking for their first road win in six games. They will have to do it against the No. 4 team in the nation, and one they haven’t faced in two seasons after the 2020 edition of the Big 12 clash was canceled due to COVID-19.

In fact, this will be just the second meeting between the Sooners and Neal Brown’s Mountaineers since the coach joined the program in 2019.

West Virginia has a history with the Sooners, dating back to 1958. Two of the Mountaineers’ biggest wins in program history have come from Oklahoma, including a 1982 thrashing in Norman to add to Don Nehlen’s young resume, and a memorable blowout in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl on the heels of a rousing speech from Bill Stewart. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the triumphs have stopped there, with the remaining 10 meetings ending as Sooner victories — including all eight conference matchups in the Big 12.

This year’s meeting seems familiar — WVU enters Norman as more than two-touchdown underdogs, looking for that landmark victory against a Sooner squad led by a Heisman candidate quarterback in Spencer Rattler. There are some unique wrinkles, however, as OU has struggled to put its opponents away, defeating each of its FBS by one possession.

Here are some of the biggest matchups ahead of Saturday’s matchup:

Familiar foes meet again after a year away

Missing out on the 2020 meeting with the Sooners makes for a unique challenge, as it isn’t often Big 12 teams go a year without facing one another. When it comes to Oklahoma, though, there definitely isn’t a lot of unfamiliarity for WVU.

“We definitely know what we’re going up against, they recruit the best in the Big 12, some of the best coaches in the Big 12, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” said linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo.

Oklahoma has been a difficult opponent for the Mountaineers since Lincoln Riley put on the headset in 2017. Riley’s Sooners haven’t scored fewer than 56 points against WVU, and average double-digit yards every play in that span. They don’t do it with flash, but rather a skillful confidence and versatility that lets them run just a regular offense with skill.

As Chandler-Semedo points out, they run the same offense that many teams across the country run, including West Virginia — but they make it look different every time.

“They just make it look ridiculous, honestly,” Chandler-Semedo added. “It’s actualy a cool thing to look at, when you actually look at it from a fan’s point of view.”

This will be the first time that the Sooners will square off against the Mountaineers’ nationally-ranked defense, however. WVU had one of the top units in 2020, and it picked up right where it left off in 2021, coming up especially big against the Hokies.

“I definitely feel like we’ve found our identity,” Chandler-Semedo said. “We’ve kidn of been found it, it’s just more so us doing our part. We’ve address exactly who we are and who we want to be, but we’ve just had to go out there and really do it, and I feel like we took steps towards that [against Virginia Tech].”

Rattling Rattler

Once again, the Mountaineers are tasked with slowing down a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Spencer Rattler. The redshirt sophomore is averaging 253 yards per game with a completion percentage of 74.8 and seven touchdowns.

“The thing about Rattler is his arm talent is so unique,” Brown said. “He can move, he extends plays, they can run him if they choose to run him, they choose not to. But he has one of the strongest arms and one of the quickest releases that I’ve seen in however long I’ve been doing it.”

Facing Rattler is an opportunity for the West Virginia defense, which despite a strong start to 2021, has struggled to force turnovers. Rattler has two picks on the season, both of which came in week one against Tulane.

West Virginia, on the other hand, has forced just one turnover all season, and has gone through all three games without an interception. That will be a key for West Virginia, as not only will plays like that stop the Sooners in their tracks, but it will generate invaluable extra possessions for the Mountaineer offense.

Kickoff between the Mountaineers and the Sooners is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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