The 16th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners open the Big 12 Conference portion of their schedule on Saturday evening against the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers.
Both teams come in sporting 1-0 records, with West Virginia having slipped past FCS foe William & Mary last weekend (24-17), and Oklahoma blanking ULM (34-0).
The Mountaineers went 7-6 last season, and finished a game under .500 (4-5) in their inaugural Big 12 campaign. Still, WVU has won 98 of its last 131 regular-season games, and it has the 14th-best record in the FBS over the last eight years. Coach Dana Holgorsen is 18-9 in his two-plus seasons at the helm.
Oklahoma went 10-3 last season, which included a stellar 8-1 showing in conference play. Unfortunately, the bitter taste of defeat hung around all offseason as the team was dismantled by former Big 12 foe Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 41-13. The shutout of ULM earned coach Bob Stoops his 150th victory, and got his team in a better frame of mind as it looks to the challenges ahead.
Oklahoma has won three of the previous five matchups in the series with West Virginia, including a wild 50-49 decision last season in the first meeting between the two as conference rivals.
Life after Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin began last week for the Mountaineers, and while the offense certainly wasn't as dynamic, it did enough to help propel West Virginia to a season-opening win over William & Mary.
Charles Sims was one of the standout performers for Holgorsen's offense, rushing for 120 yards and a TD, while Paul Millard made the most of his first time as the team's full-time starter by completing 19-of-25 passes for 237 yards and a score. Dakiel Shorts led the receiving corps with seven grabs for 63 yards, and Ronald Carswell turned his two catches into 73 yards and a TD.
Overall, the Mountaineers piled up 409 yards of total offense compared to 309 for the Tribe, and the home team had twice as many first downs (24-12). Holgorsen knows it's going to take some time for the offense to gain the kind of consistency needed to beat top-tier foes and challenge for championships.
"Offensively, we're obviously still trying to find an identity," the coach said after the season opener.
Defensively, West Virginia allowed all 17 points in the first half, but a 10- point deficit at the break was more than enough incentive for the unit to shut the gate. When it was all said and done, W&M had tallied only 102 yards on the ground and was forced to punt seven times.
The Mountaineers were credited with three TFL on the day, and their lone sack was recorded by Doug Rigg. Darwin Cook logged their only turnover with an interception.
Oklahoma too came into the season looking for a replacement for its own record-setting quarterback (Landry Jones), and coach Stoops made the surprising move in naming freshman Trevor Knight the starter for last week's season opener against ULM.
Despite missing the mark on more than half of his pass attempts (11-of-28) and winding up with only 86 yards through the air, he was Knight was productive in throwing three TD passes while also rushing for a team-high 103 yards on 13 carries.
Jalen Saunders was on the receiving end of two of Knight's scoring strikes, and as a collective unit, the offense generated 429 total yards, mostly on the backs of the ground gainers (305 yards).
Knowing the offense might take some time to jell, the defense did its job and then some in the opener, allowing the Warhawks only 166 total yards, which included a measly 38 net rushing yards. The shutout was the 250th in program history, the 14th under Stoops, and the first since a 52-0 decision against Iowa State on Oct. 16, 2010.
"Defensively, it was one of the better games that we have had in a long, long time where all of the assignments and communication were as clean as any we have had," Stoops said after the game.