Maybe it was a pipe dream. Yet WVU fans were hoping.
Had their Mountaineers finished the regular season with one loss and a Big 12 championship in hand, perhaps upsets elsewhere would have slipped WVU into the College Football Playoff.
It seemed the year for the possibility. Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings, etc., lead a dynamic offense. The Big 12 is ripe. The Mountaineer defense has been decent.
Now, though, that dream is gone. Oklahoma State rallied at home to defeat WVU 45-41 and dash any longshot CFP dreams.
On Monday, however, Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen was anything but down. The reason: His team still can make the Big 12 championship with a home victory over Oklahoma this Friday at 8 p.m.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Holgorsen. “We’re having a good time playing ball. We’re a little disappointed with how things ended the other night, but what a heck of a college football and Big 12 football game. We’ve been in a lot of those this year and Oklahoma State has been in a lot of those.
“We’ve got another one this weekend. We’re in position where this game matters and we couldn’t be more excited about it… If we can win, we’ve accomplished our goals.”
It would be surprising if making the CFP wasn’t one of those goals. Yet let’s follow Holgorsen’s lead here. Instead of looking back, let’s look ahead to this Friday game – and see how the teams match up.
While WVU was stubbing its proverbial toe to OSU, now-No. 6 Oklahoma was defeating lowly Kansas 55-40 in Norman. Look at that as you will. OU’s Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray sealed the game with a 75-year breakaway TD, had 272 passing yards and 99 rushing yards. Yet the Sooners’ defense gave up 524 yards. KU freshman running back Pooka Williams rushed for 252 yards and two TDs and also threw for a score.
“We sprung some new leaks,” said OU’s Lincoln Riley.
It’s odd. The Sooners have been leaky all season – yet are 10-1. They beat OSU 48-47. And Texas Tech 51-46. They lost to Texas 48-45.
Overall? Oklahoma is No. 87 nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 425.8 yards a game.
So, yes, expect WVU to score points. And, significantly, the Mountaineer defense is No. 55 nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 379.2 yards. That’s not great, but the gap between No. 55 and 87 has to be meaningful.
What shouldn’t be significant are both teams’ offensive stats – to a point. Oklahoma is No. 1 in total offense (576.1) and No. 11 passing offense (315.4), while WVU is No. 10 in total (502) and No. 5 in pass offense (340). About even.
But if you want to watch for an indicator, check out the Mountaineer rushing attack. While the Sooners are No. 7 nationally, averaging 260.7 ground yards, West Virginia is No. 75, averaging 162. If WVU can run early, it will be a good sign for the hosts.
Oh, and if you want another key stat to watch, check out how West Virginia fares on third down. Oklahoma is No. 4 nationally in third down conversion percentage at 51, while WVU is tied for No. 44 at 41.7.
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Friday’s contest will not only serve as a play-in game for the Big 12 championship, but Senior Day for the Mountaineers. Among those outgoing is Grier.
“This will be his last regular season game,” Holgorsen said. “Obviously he’s meant a lot to myself and our program – as have all the seniors. We have a good collection of older guys.”
Holgorsen also complimented one of his juniors on Monday: linebacker David Long. The WVU coach said few knew about the standout coming into last season, but that should have changed this season.
“I can understand him getting overlooked last season, but I don’t understand him being overlooked for anything he’s doing this year,” Holgorsen said.
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WVU’s loss to Oklahoma State wasn’t the only Mountaineer letdown over the past weekend. The Mountaineer men’s basketball team stumbled mightily before rebounding against St. Joe’s. WVU fell to Buffalo and Western Kentucky after an exhibition loss to Penn State.
Of course, the Mountaineers tumbled out of the Associated Press Top 25, where they received but 18 votes on Monday. In the Rating Percentage Index, WVU fell to No. 197 with a strength of schedule of No. 132. The only other Mountaineer victory was against Monmouth.
On Sunday, though, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins saw some improvement.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “You can see us getting better.”
Also, the schedule continues to be kind. With games against Valparaiso, Rider, Youngstown State, Jacksonville State, Lehigh, etc., one can see WVU being – at the very least – 8-4.
Especially, that is, if Lamont West continues to hit 3-point shots as he did Sunday.