No. 4 Oklahoma will be wanting to rebound from a slow start to the 2021 season Saturday in its Big 12 opener against West Virginia. The Sooners are 3-0, but they won their previous games against Tulane and Nebraska by a combined 12 points. Quarterback Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, has been erratic, throwing for just 518 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the aforementioned FBS opponents.
West Virginia faced off against regional rivals Maryland and Virginia Tech to open the season with mixed results. Following a frustrating loss to the Terrapins, the Mountaineers beat the Hokies 27-21 in Week 3 behind 196 all-purpose yards from running back Leddie Brown. West Virginia was selected to finish sixth in the preseason Big 12 poll, sandwiched between No. 5 TCU and No. 7 Kansas State.
Oklahoma and West Virginia have played 12 times, with the majority of the meetings coming since the Mountaineers entered the Big 12. The Sooners have won every matchup since the conference realigned in 2012, including a 52-14 shellacking when they last played in 2019. The 2020 matchup was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Here's what you need to know about Saturday's game in Norman, as well as picks by our team of experts.
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Oklahoma vs. West Virginia: Need to know
Rushing reluctance: Oklahoma entered the 2021 season with just two scholarship running backs following a wave of transfers and dismissals. Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray are outstanding players, but it's clear the lack of depth in the backfield has impacted the game plan. Gray and Brooks combined for just 52 total carries against Tulane and Nebraska, whereas Rattler threw the ball 73 times. Rattler is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, but asking him to account for close to two-thirds of plays is too much for any one player to handle.
Defensive regression: West Virginia boasted the top passing defense in college football last season. But after losing several top defensive pieces, including cornerback Tykee Smith to Georgia, the unit has predictably taken a step back. Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa and Virginia Tech's Braxton Burmeister combined to complete 69.2% of their passes at 8.5 yards per attempt and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. The Mountaineers have to make the game more difficult for Rattler, but are they actually able to do so?
Deadly pass rush: Oklahoma has quietly been one of the deadliest pass rushing units in the nation behind standout players like Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas. The Sooners finished No. 3 nationally in sacks last season and already rank No. 6 nationally with 13 sacks through three games. When West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege was pressured last season, his completion percentage dropped to 45.1%, per Pro Football Focus. In 2021, his pressured completion rate has fallen to 38.1%. If Oklahoma can consistently get after Doege, it will be a brutal day for the West Virginia offense.
How to watch Oklahoma vs. West Virginia live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 25 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium -- Norman, Oklahoma
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Oklahoma vs. West Virginia prediction, picks
Oklahoma has played both of its FBS opponents within one score, and West Virginia is probably the best opponent on the schedule to this point. To be sure, the Sooners have the ability to turn on the running game and put away any team in the Big 12. It's unlikely we see that dimension against this West Virginia team, however. For that reason, expect the score to be closer than it should once again. Prediction: West Virginia (+16.5)
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