NORMAN, Okla. – The winner of Saturday’s game between No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 9 West Virginia will have the inside track on not only the Big 12 Championship but a possible ticket to the four-team college playoff.
The stakes are high Saturday.
“West Virginia is an exciting football team. No question Dana Holgorsen and his staff have done a great job, in particular offensively,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “They’re very, very physical running the football and work the run game. And then they’ve got some big-play hitters outside. Skyler Howard is a really good quarterback throwing the football.”
Oklahoma took care of business Saturday by overpowering then-No. 25 Baylor 45-24 in Norman. The Sooners are 8-2 and 7-0 in the Big 12. West Virginia survived a tough battle with Texas, winning 24-20. The Mountaineers (8-1, 5-1) are in third place in the conference, one half game behind Oklahoma State.
If OU wins Saturday, the Sooner’s final regular season game against No. 13 Oklahoma State will determine the champion if OSU beats TCU Saturday. If West Virginia beats OU, WVU would need to end the regular season with wins over Iowa State and Baylor and hope for an OU win over OSU.
Thanks to last Saturday’s upset of the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams, the Big 12 has a shot at the playoff. OU is ranked higher than WVU and OSU and has won seven games in a row. West Virginia has only one loss (to OSU) and a victory against Oklahoma would be a signature win.
OSU is in charge of their own destiny as wins over TCU and Oklahoma would give them the Big 12 crown.
As for Oklahoma, here’s what needs to happen for the Sooners to make a second straight trip to the playoffs:
- OU must beat No. 9 West Virginia and No. 13 Oklahoma State;
- Wisconsin (8-2) needs to lose another game, and Ohio State (9-1) and/or Michigan (9-1) (preferably Michigan) need to lose one more game;
- Louisville needs to lose Houston or Kentucky or Clemson needs to lose to Wake Forest, South Carolina or in the ACC title game; and,
- Washington needs to lose to Arizona State or Washington State.
It is a daunting set of circumstances for the Sooners but stranger things have happened. If the playoff takes one team from the SEC (Alabama), one team from the Big 10 (Ohio State or Michigan), one team from the ACC (Clemson or Louisville), then Oklahoma would be battling the Pac-12 winner (probably Washington or Washington State) for the four slot.
In any case, it is a wonderful prospect for an OU team that opened the season at 1-2.
But first, Oklahoma must face a tough Mountaineer team when they travel to Morgantown Saturday.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“Always a challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said “They’ve always got a ruckus, a rowdy crowd at West Virginia. It’s a challenging place to go play, but they’re always exciting, too, when you’re that way.”
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win the Big 12,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The next game will be big.”
Oklahoma beat West Virginia 44-24 in Norman last year.
OU quarterback Baker Mayfield relishes playing in front of a big crowd in a crucial game.
“We’re in control of our own destiny right now and, like I said, it’s on to the next one,” Mayfield said. “But it’s really exciting to go to Morgantown. They always bring it and it’s going to be a great matchup. They’re a top team in the Big 12, they bring it, they like to blitz, and they stick to their game plan and run with it. We need to know what we’re getting into and it will be an exciting one.”
OU linebacker Emmanuel Beal is from Ohio and is very familiar with West Virginia.
“There will be a lot of family and support,” Beal said. “It will be a lot of fun and a good atmosphere.”
The OU defense is playing much better.
“It is great,” Beal said. “It gives us as a team and a defense more confidence. We will have to continue to show confidence when we go on the road to West Virginia, the atmosphere is pretty hostile and the fans are very live so we will have to respond.”
“I feel like we’re gaining a lot of momentum at the end of the season like every other team should,” said OU safety Ahmad Thomas. “I think West Virginia is going to be a really good game. They’re a real good team and I’m looking forward to it.”
The OU match up with West Virginia will be one of the top games in nation Saturday.
“That is going to be a really fun game,” said OU tight end Mark Andrews. “Obviously, they are a good team and are one of the best in the conference so it’s games like this that we look forward too and we will be ready for it.”
Mayfield is quietly making the case for consideration of the Heisman Trophy. Against Baylor, he made 20 of 25 passes (80 percent) for 300 yards and two touchdowns. He scored OU’s first touchdown with a 15-yard scamper. Mayfield threw two touchdown passes to Dede Westbrook.
Westbrook had 88 yards with four receptions, even though the Bears’ defense paid special attention to him. Westbrook extended his school-record of TDs from scrimmage of at least 40 yards this season to 10 (all in last 7 games).
OU running back Samaje Perine returned to the starting lineup and had 103 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.
“He was fresh. He was explosive,” said OU Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley. “I thought some of the timing came back the more carries that he got and that’s always been his M.O. He’s always been a guy that as the game goes on, he gets stronger and stronger. He did that today.”
Running back Joe Mixon had 124 yards on only 14 carries and one touchdown – a 56-yard blast in the fourth quarter. It was the longest run the Baylor defense allowed all year. Mixon caught a game-high five passes for 63 yards.
“We know Oklahoma is physical,” said Baylor linebacker Aiavion Edwards. “They have great backs, great receiving corps. Just take away a few mistakes and we’re looking at trying to come back and win this game.“
Edwards said Baylor wanted to contain Westbrook but the Sooners made that difficult.
“They had to move him around,” Edwards said. “They had to get him away from me. They had to put him in different positions and try to get him one-on-one with somebody else.”
Jordan Evans became the first OU player ever to record two interceptions and two sacks in one game.
“He didn’t do anything different than he has,” Stoops said of Evans. “He’s an excellent athlete: hands and rangy. He can play in space, and he did a really good job there today.”
“Coaches called some great calls and we had great preparation all week so the stuff they were doing we were familiar with and then it’s just muscle memory,” Evans said. “I got blessed with some of the stuff that came my way today.”
Evans had nine tackles and two pass breakups. He picked off Baylor QB Seth Russell on the goal line, setting up a 91-yard touchdown drive. In the third quarter, Evans added his second pick, which led to a one-yard TD rush from Perine. It was just the second time this season that Russell has been intercepted twice in a game Evans now has a team-high three interceptions this season and four in his career.
“He does a lot – we put a lot on his plate,” said OU Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops. “He kind of organizes the whole defense and he’s a very smart player. I’m glad to see him make some plays now and start to gain some confidence and get some rhythm in his game. It comes at a good time. He’s an important part of what we’re doing.”
Interim Baylor coach Jim Grobe acknowledged OU’s play but recognized that his team’s turnovers and penalties hurt their chances to win.
“I want to give Oklahoma all the credit, first and foremost, and I think they are a really good football team and belong in the top 10,” Grobe said. “But, so many things we did today were self-inflicted – things that we did to ourselves that we need to clean up.”
The 45-24 win was the 100th home victory for Stoops, who is 100-9 in Norman in 18 seasons. The Sooners’ final home game this year is December 3 against Oklahoma State.
OU has a 23-3 (.885) all-time record against Baylor and is 12-1 vs. the Bears in Norman. In the Big 12 era, the Sooners hold an 18-3 series edge (9-1 at home). Stoops is 15-3 vs. Baylor as OU’s coach (the 15 wins are his most against any foe) and 8-1 at home.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell suffered an ankle injury that looked so bad that no one would show it on the replay.
“I feel bad for their quarterback, Seth Russell,” said Bob Stoops. “I hope he will heal up and that things will go well in how they manage that. Hated to see that happen. Hate to see that for any young man.”
“I was just kind of shocked,” said Baylor freshman quarterback Zach Smith, who replaced Russell. “He’s like a brother to me, the leader of this team. I was shocked and it just really hurt me for him, knowing what he’s going through, what he went through last year to come all the way back here to compete and just getting hurt again – prayers out for him.”