NORMAN, Okla. – A season later, the statistics from the first conference meeting between Oklahoma and West Virginia still boggle the mind.
In Oklahoma's 50-49 victory, the teams combined for 164 plays and 1,440 offensive yards (778 for West Virginia, 662 for the Sooners). Just for West Virginia, Tavon Austin had 572 all-purpose yards (344 rushing, 82 receiving, 146 on kickoff returns), Stedman Bailey had 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns, and Geno Smith passed for 320 yards.
None of that trio remains with the Mountaineers, but No. 16 Oklahoma (1-0) is well aware of the potential explosiveness of the West Virginia offense when the teams meet Saturday in the Big 12 opener. The Sooners dismiss West Virginia's struggle to beat Football Championship Division opponent William & Mary 24-17 last Saturday as an aberration.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said the Sooners' meltdown in Morgantown last year was a catalyst toward schematic changes that proved effective in Oklahoma's season opener, a 34-0 romp over Louisiana-Monroe.
"A basic principle for defensive football is not letting the ball outleverage you and continuously throughout the course of the year last year, we just couldn't control the ball getting outside us," Stoops said. "That just stretches your defense even more, and then we opened up some holes inside. It was a learning experience in a lot of ways. Hopefully we can build upon a defense that can last and still be aggressive and be sound, and you've got to create indecision in the quarterback's mind constantly.
"We'll see if we can hold them under 778. Hopefully we can do better than that."
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he was encouraged that his team played with more energy in the second half against William & Mary, allowing the Mountaineers to rally from a 10-point deficit.
West Virginia (1-0) had a run-pass ratio of 44 plays to 27 plays in the opener, something Holgorsen wants to see addressed Saturday.
"I'd like to throw the ball a lot more than we did," he said. "We're talking about throwing the ball 30 percent of the time. That's embarrassing. We're going to try to correct that - that's for certain. I don't care much about stats, but we have to be more balanced."
Here are five things to watch when Oklahoma takes on West Virginia:
LEARNING AT QUARTERBACK: Both West Virginia's Paul Millard and Oklahoma's Trevor Knight will be making their second career start. Knight struggled with short- and intermediate-length throws early on in the opener and threw for just 86 yards, albeit with three touchdowns. But he also rushed for 103 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, giving the Sooners the added threat of a mobile quarterback. Millard threw just 25 passes — a low number for a Holgorsen-coached offense - for 237 yards and was relieved briefly by Florida State transfer Clint Trickett in the season opener.
COACHING FAMILIARITY: Holgorsen coached in the Big 12 before West Virginia became a member of the league, as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State (and as an assistant at Texas Tech before that). He knows the raucous environment the Mountaineers will face at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But the Sooners also are familiar with Holgorsen's tendencies and new Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was a West Virginia assistant last season under Holgorsen. Holgorsen said the Mountaineers will need to "be careful" with their signals, tendencies and combinations "because they understand it. They know us better than anyone in the country."
EMPHASIZING THE RUN: Oklahoma rushed for 305 yards against Louisiana-Monroe. With a deep stable of capable running backs - Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Trey Millard among them - it will be interesting to see if the Sooners continue to lean on the run game while Knight gains game experience at quarterback. The Sooners are 55-1 — with 27 straight wins — since 1999 when rushing for 200 or more yards in a game and they're 14-0 during that time frame when rushing for 300 or more yards.
IMMEDIATE IMPACT: In his first game at West Virginia after transferring from Houston, running back Charles Sims carried 23 times for 120 yards and a touchdown. Holgorsen, then an assistant at Houston, recruited Sims to play for the Cougars. Sims took advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a player who has earned his bachelor's degree to transfer and be immediately eligible while working on a master's degree at another school. He only caught one pass against William & Mary but figures to be on the receiving end of more passes against the Sooners.
EIGHTH OFFICIAL: The Big 12 is adding an eighth on-field game official this season for league games, which most people think will help up-tempo offenses, such as those found at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Baylor, among others. One of the new official's duties will be to spot the ball as quickly as possible after a play ends. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he's not concerned with the addition of the extra official, while Holgorsen said he hopes the number of holding penalties won't increase as a result.