MORGANTOWN, West Va.— —
Oklahoma’s stingy secondary is getting another chance to slow down a 3,000-yard passer.
The Sooners held Nick Florence, the nation’s leader in passing yards per game, to a season-low 172 yards in a win over Baylor last week. Tonight, No. 13 Oklahoma will try to put the kibosh on West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who will try to help the Mountaineers break a four-game losing streak.
“We know that they’re explosive,” OU safety Javon Harris said. “We know what they’re capable of. We’ve seen what they did at the beginning of the year. You never can sleep like a team like this.”
Smith threw for 364 yards and two scores in a 55-34 loss at Oklahoma State last week. It was his first 300-yard passing performance in five games.
He’ll get one of his stiffest tests against an OU defense that has allowed only two opponents to throw for more than 200 yards this season.
“Those guys are really talented, and they play a lot of man coverage, which is the difference, one of the key differences in my opinion,” Smith said. “They have one of the better pass defenses in the country. So it will be a challenge and we look forward to it.”
This won’t be the game that was envisioned over the summer as a showdown among Big 12 contenders.
The Sooners (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) don’t control their conference destiny with No. 2 Kansas State a win away from clinching at least a share of the championship. Barring a meltdown by the Wildcats, OU must win its remaining three games to remain in contention for an at-large BCS bowl berth.
After starting the season 5-0, West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) is desperate to become bowl eligible. Another setback would give West Virginia its longest losing streak since 1986 and a third loss at home this season, something that hasn’t happened since 2001.
The Mountaineers have allowed an average of 50 points during the losing streak, and Smith is still having a solid season despite not being able to keep up with his leaky defense and watching his Heisman Trophy credentials disappear. He’s third in the Bowl Subdivision with 338 passing yards per game and needs one touchdown pass to break the single-season school record of 31 he shares with Marc Bulger.
“It’s human nature to think how I wish I could’ve made some plays differently that could have affected some games, but being the player that I am, I don’t really think about it,” Smith said. “I just move on because there’s more football to be played.”
Heavy favorite Oklahoma is 3-0 on the road, in addition to beating Texas in Dallas. The best an opposing receiver has done against the Sooners this season is six receptions — West Virginia’s Tavon Austin leads the nation with nearly 11 catches a game, and teammate Stedman Bailey is not far behind at eight.
“They still throw the ball all over,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “They’ve still been highly productive. Of course they’re a dangerous offense.”
OU’s Landry Jones has six touchdown passes in the past two games and could follow a season-long trend of star passing performances given up by West Virginia’s defense, which ranks last in the FBS by allowing 344 passing yards per game.
“We’re going to have to give them our best shot,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “But we don’t have to play over our heads. We just have to play consistent football.”
While OU has let four opponents compile at least 200 yards on the ground, the Sooners may not have to worry about that with West Virginia, which has been held below 100 rushing yards in its last three games.
Andrew Buie has handled most of the load because Shawne Alston remains slowed by a thigh bruise and Dustin Garrison isn’t fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.
But West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Buie will wear down if he has 20 carries every game.
“We are working extremely hard to recruit about five or six running backs who can come in here and give us help,” Holgorsen said. “And until that happens, it is what it is.”