After scoring a touchdown, West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (4) celebrates with his teammate West Virginia running back Rushel Shell (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia defeated Maryland 45-6. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
NORMAN, Oklahoma — Whatever the name of the particular attack, Oklahoma's defensive bugaboo in recent years has been consistently slowing pass-happy offenses.
Their first such test this season ended in a win, but the Sooners were torched often while beating Tulsa 52-38 on Sept. 19, giving up 603 yards of offense to the Golden Hurricane. After a bye week, No. 15 Oklahoma (3-0) will face a similar style of offense Saturday when it will host No. 23 West Virginia (3-0) in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams.
In the Big 12, the Sooners will see many passing teams - Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State among them. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said the development of high-powered offenses in college football has caused a re-evaluation of how to critique a defensive performance.
Stoops said the best measure of a team's defense is if it wins or loses, not necessarily how many yards or points it surrenders.
"I think TCU's probably pretty satisfied with their win last weekend (55-52 over Texas Tech), so you win," Stoops said Monday. "Like I said, too, the week before, at Tennessee, we won a different way (31-24 in two overtimes). You win differently every week and that's why it's a team, when I say and I say it a lot, about playing together as a team, that's what I mean by it. One side of the ball doesn't win or lose for you. It's always a combination - a team win any way you can get it."
Twice in the past three years, the Sooners have struggled to stymie West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers rolled up 778 yards against Oklahoma in 2012, with the Sooners winning 50-49 only because quarterback Landry Jones threw a school-record six touchdown passes. Oklahoma won another shootout in the 2014 game, prevailing 45-33 even though West Virginia had 513 yards of offense.
West Virginia's offense is averaging 543.3 yards and 41 points per game this season, albeit against mostly outmanned competition (Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland). Junior quarterback Skyler Howard is averaging 334.7 yards per game passing, completing 69 percent of his pass attempts and throwing for nine touchdowns.
Considering the Mountaineers' defense seems to be greatly improved - they lead the Bowl Subdivision in points allowed (7.7 per game) and turnover margin (plus-3 per game) - it would seem to behoove Oklahoma to avoid an offensive shootout this time around. Stoops said those games can sometimes be hard to win.
"You've got to be able to hold serve and do it as well," he said. "I reflect back - I have often - I said it today on my radio show, I reflected back to the bowl game with Michigan State and Baylor (last season). Michigan State comes in with one of the top defenses in America and gave up 600 yards passing to Baylor, but still won 42-41, because they had theirs as well. It's challenging and you've got to hold serve."
Oklahoma defensive back Steven Parker said the Sooners' secondary received a wake-up call during the Tulsa game, which he thinks will help them focus going forward.
"It was a great teaching moment for us," Parker said. "It kept us on our feet and made us think a little bit more. We know we're going to see this from Baylor and TCU and even West Virginia a little bit. It kind of let us see what we're going to be facing and give us some practice against that type of offense."