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Oklahoma Football: Previewing The Sooners And West Virginia

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

If you're a fan of defensive football, last season's game between Oklahoma and West Virginia probably still gives you nightmares. The two teams combined for 99 points, a whopping 1,440 yards and 8.8 yards per play.

For OU fans, it was a terrible embarrassment for a program that once prided itself on its top-10 defensive units. West Virginia ran up 778 yards, including an incredible 572 all-purpose yards from wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Thankfully for the Sooners, Austin, quarterback Geno Smith and fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey—664 of the 778 yards—are all gone, so it'd be hard to expect the same kind of offensive explosion for the Mountaineers on Saturday when the two teams tangle in Norman for the first time since 1982. Throw in the fact West Virginia nearly lost at home last week to FCS foe William and Mary that went 2-9 a year ago, and it would appear the Sooners are well on their way to another romp to start 2013.

However, to think West Virginia is going to come in and play as poorly as they did last week would be selling the Mountaineers short. Coach Dana Holgorsen has one of the best offensive systems in the nation and once the new players learn their roles and begin to produce, the Mountaineers could surprise teams. It's probably a best-case scenario the Sooners get to face WVU this early in the season before the offense begins to gel.

The Mountaineers have found a great running back in Houston transfer Charles Sims, and junior Paul Millard seems to have taken control of the quarterback race from FSU transfer Clint Trickett. The wide receivers are young, but talented, so there is a lot of potential for the growth of the passing game.

The defense is still improving, but has several veteran leaders back this season that should help the Mountaineers be a little less porous than they were a year ago.

Saturday's game with West Virginia should look much different for Oklahoma than last year, but the Sooners should be cautious and not take the Mountaineers lightly.

Three questions for the Sooners:

-Can the defense replicate last week's performance?

The OU defense may not talk a lot about revenge, but there is no doubt the Sooners will be using this game to redeem themselves from last year's debacle. Oklahoma got off to a great start this year by holding Louisiana-Monroe to 166 yards and zero points, a performance few saw coming. That performance no doubt gave a lot of confidence to a unit that many fans didn't have a lot of hope for this year. The Sooners may not shut the Mountaineers out, but they can still offer up an impressive performance.

-Will Trevor Knight shed the first-game jitters?

OU coach Bob Stoops has been very direct this week, saying Knight needed to be better at making the screen passes and intermediate throws that are such a vital part of the Sooners' offense. Knight finished Saturday's game against ULM with 103 rushing yards, but was just 11-for-28 passing for 86 yards and three touchdowns. Knight did improve a lot after the first quarter, particularly in the second half. The West Virginia defense isn't anything scary, so this week is another great opportunity for Knight to continue to settle in as the Sooners' starting quarterback. However, another shaky start could have OU fans questioning if he's the man for the job.

-Will the offense continue to unveil new wrinkles to match the personnel?

The Sooners surprised many people last week when they broke out a zone read package in the Pistol formation. Tweaks to the offense were expected since OU now had the luxury of a quarterback that could run. However, few expected the drastic changes the Sooners rolled out on Saturday. Now, people are left to wonder if that's it or if OU is going to add new wrinkles in the upcoming weeks. It's likely Saturday's game plan was a small showing based on what the Sooners had mastered by game time. More additions to this new-look OU offense could very well be coming, both this week and in the weeks to come.

Three key players for West Virginia:

-Charles Sims, running back

The Mountaineers lost running back Andrew Buie before the season opener last week, but Sims made Mountaineer fans forget him rather quickly. The Houston transfer racked up 120 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown, easily the brightest part of WVU's less-than-stellar performance. Sims is no Tavon Austin, but he's a very experienced player and can catch the ball out of the backfield. With a weapon like Sims, the Mountaineers don't have to throw the ball 50 times a game. The Sooners will have to account for Sims at all times on Saturday.

-Paul Millard, quarterback

Millard won the starting job over FSU transfer Clint Trickett and performed well against William and Mary, despite the Mountaineers' overall lackluster performance. Millard finished the day a very efficient 19-of-25 for 237 yards and a touchdown. Trickett saw some action as well, but didn't complete either of the two passes he attempted. This will be Millard's first road game as a starter and how he performs under pressure will go a long way toward determining how this game will go.

-Darwin Cook, safety

Cook is arguably the best player on the WVU defense, racking up six tackles and an interception last week from his safety position. Landry Jones torched the Mountaineer secondary a year ago, so Cook and fellow safety Karl Joseph will be looking for a bit of revenge of their own. Playing against a redshirt freshman quarterback could allow Cook to make some big, momentum-turning plays for West Virginia. Knight will have to make smart throws or Cook is going to make him pay.

Key matchup: OU defense vs. WVU offense

This easily could have been more specific, but it's easy to forget that the secondary is only able to great if the defensive line is able to get pressure on the quarterback. That was part of the Sooners' problem a year ago, and Geno Smith was able to take advantage of that, finding open receivers time and time again. The Sooners defense did a great job in all phases of the game against ULM last week, and it will need to be as good, if not better, to limit the Mountaineers in a similar way. The revenge motivation should be good fuel for the Sooners, but that will only carry them so far. OU has to execute and communicate like they did a week ago.

Prediction Oklahoma 42, West Virginia 20

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