Big 12 football is officially a go for the Oklahoma Sooners. They navigated a less than stellar non-conference slate with an escape of Tulane, a throttling of Western Carolina and tough rivalry win against long-time foe Nebraska. They’ll start their conference title defense against the Mountaineers of West Virginia under the lights on Saturday night.
Heading into the game, it’s been noted that Oklahoma hasn’t shown themselves to be worthy of the preseason hype as national champions. Whether you agree or disagree, it means nothing as the games now are tough every week. OU has plenty of time to mold themselves into the team that many think can compete against the likes of Georgia and Alabama for the national title. Each game presents their own set of problems and questions.
As the Sooners narrow their focus in on West Virginia, let’s take a look at the five questions we will be asking.
Will Oklahoma put together a complete offensive showing against a solid WVU team?
After pitching a shutout against FCS Western Carolina and following that up with the performance they put together against Nebraska, it's becoming obvious the defense is getting closer and closer to the unit that came into the season with massive amounts of hype and recognition. Led by an elite defensive line, the defense has created turnovers, came up with timely stops and imposed their will on games. The offense hasn't quite done that yet. More specifically, they have not operated at a level that the team has been known for. Is this the game we get the offense to start revving its engine Quarterback Spencer Rattler has faced some criticism for his play and decision making but it will mean nothing if he flips the switch this Saturday. The running game started finding its feet against Nebraska and if that continues it may soften up defenses for OU to take to the skies and let some deep shots rain from above.
Will Woodi Washington's replacement be a glaring weakness on this defense?
After an excellent campaign last season in which he took over as a starter, redshirt sophomore cornerback Woodi Washington suffered an injury in the game vs Western Carolina. It would keep him out the game against Nebraska and earlier this week in a press conference head coach Lincoln Riley offered an update on his status saying that Washington would miss 'a significant amount of time'. In the Nebraska game the cornerback spots were manned by D.J. Graham, Joshua Eaton, Latrell McCutchin and Jaden Davis. The Mountaineers don't have any guys that would be considered superstars at receiver but they are still a talented bunch and missing a starter at corner is never easy to replace. D.J. Graham provided a candidate for play of the year with his one-handed interception against Nebraska. Can he follow that up with a nice performance against West Virginia? Will true freshman Latrell McCutchin take a step forward in his first Big 12 action? The Sooners have good depth there and all they ask is that the corner spot doesn't become a position of weakness in the midst of Washington's absence.
Does Andrew Raym fully replace Robert Congel as the starting center?
After missing most of the first game due to missed practice time because of contracting COVID-19, Andrew Raym has increased his snap count in weeks since. In the second quarter of the Nebraska game, he replaced Robert Congel to start a drive and the Sooners immediately ripped off a 22-yard run in a game that saw them run the ball the best they had all season. Raym, a sophomore, has all the natural talent in the world and if the past game versus Nebraska was any indication he can help take this line to another level. It remains to be seen who will get the start, but replacing Congel mid-game and not relinquishing the spot seems like a real possibility. Aside from blocking, the center position comes with a built in leadership role and responsibilities for setting protections. Solidifying that spot could ultimate solidify the offensive line leading to better and more consistent results across the offensive line.
Can the interior offensive linemen of Oklahoma stymie Dante Stills?
The biggest obstacle for the Oklahoma offensive line this week is blocking 2021 AP preseason All-American defensive tackle Dante Stills. He may not be a massive player but at under 300 pounds, it allows Stills the ability to be ultra-explosive and disruptive at the point of attack in the interior. Whether Andrew Raym or Robert Congel starts, either will have their hands full and will need assistance from left guard Marquis Hayes and right guard Chris Murray to handle the stunts, twists and other games the Mountaineers will use to get Stills loose. Look for the offensive line to slide, double team and use the quick game to keep Stills honest and on his toes.
Can Oklahoma avoid their early season Big 12 loss?
The last few years the Sooners have had one odd loss to a team they should've likely taken care of with relative ease. Last year, they blew a home game against Kansas State when Kansas State scored 17 points in the fourth and held the Sooners scoreless on their way to the upset win. The year before, they lost in Manhattan against Kansas State as well. A few years earlier they lost a game in early October against Iowa State. This season, so far they've narrowly escaped some games they were favored by 20+ points in. While those are true statements and facts, West Virginia has not beaten Oklahoma since joining the Big 12. The Sooners won't have an easy go of it and have to come out on Saturday with a level of focus they've showed sparingly this season to avoid being upset.