By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There are many ways to look at Saturday’s matchup between Oklahoma and West Virginia University, but in the end the game boils down to one very simple angle that cannot be ignored … and its angle that does not favor West Virginia.
The heart of both offenses is the quarterbacks – record-shattering Geno Smith at West Virginia and an equally prolific Landry Jones at Oklahoma.
The quarterback who has the better day could well lead his team to the victory, each being capable of completely dominating play.
But here’s the catch.
Smith will be throwing against one of the best pass defenses in college football, a pass defense that ranks No. 8 in the nation, that gives up an average of 170.22 yards a game.
Jones, on the other hand will not be throwing against one of the worst defenses in college football; he will be facing the very worst, a pass defense ranked 120th and last, one that gives up twice as many yards as Oklahoma at 343 per game.
Oh, yes, shall we mention that West Virginia has allowed 27 touchdown passes this year – an average of three in each of its nine games that has led to a 5-4 record.
Oklahoma? The Sooners, too, have given up three TDs … not per game, but during the whole season.
Even Smith was not aware of that and, when so informed, had his eyes widen and said, “Wow! That is amazing.”
Especially since the Sooners play in the pass happy Big 12.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen knows what he’s up against as he tries to break the first four-game losing streak he’s ever been involved in during his coaching career.
“This poses different challenges,” he said, before re-emphasizing it. “I can assure you it poses different challenges.”
Oklahoma isn’t very tricky at all. It doesn’t have to be.
“There are one-on-one matchups. Are our guys good enough to win those one-on-one matchups? We will see Saturday night,” Holgorsen said.
Oklahoma doesn’t think WVU can win those one-on-one matchups. The Sooners don’t think anyone can win those matchups.
Smith isn’t sure the Sooners are right.
Asked how he would approach the Mountaineers’ high-powered passing game, the one built around Smith throwing to Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn’t act too concerned.
“Just like we do every week, we don’t worry much of what the other guys do and don’t do,” the veteran coach said. “We worry about how we need to practice and how we need to execute, whether it’s running, or other things. It’s about how being as good as we can be.”
And that is very, very good.
Holgorsen has spent a lot of time at a lot of different places trying to dissect this defense, and he understands it well.
“When you think of a one-on-one matchup, you are not looking at one receiver having to beat one DB. You are looking at four receivers and potentially a running back who have to win those matchups, and then you have two safeties that do what they want to,” he explained. “They still have help over the top, and then there are four people up front, and then add the linebacker, which is a fifth guy up front.
“So there are five lineman and five people. They have to win that one-on-one matchup, too. It boils down to they think they have better players than who they play, which is why they are pretty good at that scheme, because they have pretty good players.”
That is as much of an understatement as you will read this week.
And what kind of challenge does Jones and his receivers present to the Mountaineer defense?
“This is probably one of the most talented groups of receivers we have faced all year and possibly in the country,” Holgorsen admitted. “Kenny Stills has been there for a while and is good. They hit two home runs on two transfers. The (Justin) Brown kid from Penn State, and the (Jalen) Saunders kid from Fresno are special.”
Stills is the key receiver and his quarterback, Jones, knows it.
“I think Kenny’s speed and his explosiveness separate him from the other guys that we have,” he said. “He does a great job of using his speed and using leverage to help him out.
“Maybe he is standing at a guy a certain way or exploding off the ball or chopping his feet in different ways that he uses to get separation,” he continued. “It is just different from a guy like Justin (Brown), who uses his size. Kenny does a great job of using his speed and leverage to gain separation from people.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.