Guerin Emig: The Sooners need to win this one or we start comparing last year’s cliff-fall to the potential for another.
NORMAN — Oklahoma needs to play BYU this week at home, not next week in Provo. The Sooners need a cleansing game against a beatable opponent after what’s happened the past two weeks.
Instead, they host West Virginia on Saturday night.
Brent Venables mentioned Mountaineers quarterback Garrett Greene Tuesday, and the Mountaineers’ run game, and their offensive line, and how confidently they are defending, and how well they are playing (see: their 4-2 Big 12 record).
“We are going to have to play well,” Venables said, “and we are going to have to play complementary football and clean football.”
The Sooners haven’t played complementary football since drubbing Iowa State 50-20 Sept. 30. They haven’t played cleanly, that is without a turnover, since beating Texas 34-30 Oct. 7.
The opposing direction of these two teams makes Saturday night uncomfortable. OU’s direction makes Saturday night urgent. The Sooners need to win this one or we start comparing last year’s cliff-fall to the potential for another.
Let’s consider how they win this one…
One player: Kip Lewis
Lewis replaced Danny Stutsman at Will linebacker last week in Bedlam and was easily OU’s most forceful defender. If Stutsman returns Saturday, Venables should probably make room for Lewis, even if that means sitting Mike linebacker Jaren Kanak.
Lewis was that good in Stillwater.
West Virginia is that good at running the ball. Jahiem White and CJ Donaldson both hit triple figures in the Mountaineers’ 37-7 trouncing of BYU last week, a game in which WVU rushed for 336 yards.
Venables needs aggressive, secure linebacking play against White and Donaldson. That’s what Lewis gave him in Bedlam en route to 15 tackles, nine of which were solo jobs.
“Really confident in Kip,” Venables said four days before Bedlam. “He finds the football, plays really hard.”
Five days before Bedlam, with reporters asking if he was ready should he have to replace Stutsman, Lewis said: “Let’s buckle up and go play. Let’s step up.”
Lewis stepped up all right. He’ll need to do so again on Saturday night.
One problem: The Mountaineers aren’t just playing well, they’re playing angrily
If summer prognostications came true, West Virginia would head into this weekend winless in the Big 12 — the Mountaineers were picked to finish last in the league’s preseason poll — and Neal Brown would be looking for his next job.
The reality is that WVU is tied for third with OU and three others in the Big 12, and Brown is doing the best coaching in the conference aside from Mike Gundy.
About that preseason pick, Neal?
“It’s something we keep in front of (players),” he told West Virginia media this week. “Until the year is over, we still have something to prove. That’s what people thought of us and we’re out to prove that wrong right up until the end. We’re using that as motivation.”
It isn’t the only thing.
“We’ve got a sour taste in our mouth from the last time we were there,” Brown said of WVU’s 16-13 loss in Norman in September of ‘21. “We got beat on a walk-off field goal. We felt we were in control of the game… We turned it over on downs and they won it late.”
Gabe Brkic won it with a 30-yarder as time expired. It put a bow on his 3-for-3 day.
That introduces another problem for the Sooners — if they need another walk-off, can they rely on Zach Schmit to deliver? He is 6-for-11 on field goals in Big 12 games.
One preposterous prediction: Schmit delivers
Venables stuck up for his kicker without being prompted to do so this week, saying: “You lose a couple of games by a score, everybody wants to point to all of it. It all matters, but I don’t put it on one guy. We shouldn’t have been kicking a 51-yarder, is how I looked at it last week.”
Schmit was wide right on his 51-yard try in the second quarter at OSU, a notable miss given the 27-24 final score.
“We need to be more efficient on second down and third down so that we’re not forced to say, ‘Well, dang, can’t go for it on fourth down now. We need the points. Let’s kick,’” Venables continued. “So that’s how I look at it. He’s been 45 out of 45 on his PATs, and he’s been excellent in his directional kicking (on kickoffs) and putting it in the end zone a good amount of time.”
Schmit does miss an extra point Saturday night — thanks for the jinx, Coach — but comes up big when it matters, drilling a 40-yard field goal at the gun.
One pick: Sooners 30, Mountaineers 27