The Campus Read Option was in Norman, Oklahoma this past weekend for the early afternoon game between the Sooners and West Virginia. The Mountaineers walked into the game boasting one of the top defenses in the country, giving up a measly 7.7 points per game.
On the morning prior to kickoff, Fox Sports Football Analyst and a former captain of OU’s 1985 National Championship team Spencer Tillman told me, “An explosive Dana Holgorsen offense at West Virginia is to be expected. But so far, they seem to have something he hasn’t had before, and that’s an excellent defense. It should be fun to see if Oklahoma can contain them defensively, and if the Sooners offense can exploit the Mountaineers in the passing game.”
Last year’s tussle was the national coming out party for then-freshman running back Samaje Perine, who put about as much mileage on West Virginia’s defense as a Kenyan marathoner, running for 242 yards and four touchdowns. That game was tied at 24 at halftime before Perine took over, accounting for three bruising second-half touchdowns and becoming the first OU running back to cross the 200-yard threshold since DeMarco Murray in 2010.
West Virginia was one of this season’s early surprises. College football hasn’t really witnessed an Air Raid offense augmented by a deadly defense. So this contest promised to be revealing on a number of levels.
Watching the game from the south end zone on Owen Field is an incredible experience. It’s an unparalleled vantage point to gauge the true speed, athleticism and rapid-fire action taking place on the grass.
Here are some of my takeaways from the game –
If Oklahoma did not have so many penalties in the first half, the outcome of the game might have been uglier than Warden Norton’s twisted personality in The Shawshank Redemption. As it stands, the 44-24 pasting of the Mountaineers was pretty ugly. West Virginia looked great in spurts, but not as dominant as they looked in the season’s first few weeks.
Leading 24-7 at halftime, OU had scored more points than the 23 overall points West Virginia had given up all year. One of the Biletnikoff candidates as the country’s top receiver, OU's Sterling Shepard, finally got the help he’ll need to keep defenses from constantly focusing on him as Dede Westbrook, Durron Neal, Micah Quick, Mark Andrews, along with Perine out of the backfield, caught 12 balls for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Shepard only had two receptions, but one of them was off of a sizzling cut that led to a 28-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield is excellent while throwing the ball on the move. His ability and poise within the tight confines of a collapsing hurricane in the pocket, along with his zip on the ball, was pretty impressive.
If Oklahoma can continue to have the first down success it had on Saturday, especially from Mayfield who completed nine of his 11 first-down passes for 225 yards, they’ll be able to better exploit defenses with their dynamic ground combo of Perine and redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, who scored his first college touchdown on a nifty 28-yard run against the Mountaineers.
Mixon and Perine seemed underutilized, though. Even with a new offensive emphasis that’s centered around the Air Raid passing attack, Oklahoma has perhaps the best running back tandem in the country, and needs to have a better balance between its air and ground games.
But my biggest takeaway, the one that made me jump up and down as if I was at a Baptist revival, was watching the Sooners’ fantastic senior linebacker, Erik Striker. Goodness gracious gawd a'mighty, the young man is sensational and relentless from sideline to sideline.
Striker had 13 tackles, nine of them solo, and two sacks in being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week and earning AutoNation National Defensive Player of the Week honors, as voted on by the Football Writers Association of America.
His forced fumble with 9:37 left in the fourth quarter, which resulted in his fellow linebacker Jordan Evans scooping up the loose ball and rumbling for a 40-yard score, effectively put the sleeper hold on the Mountaineers. Striker was seemingly everywhere, a human projectile who made life miserable for the West Virginia lineman that struggled to block him.
He singlehandedly menaced and harassed quarterback Skyler Howard like Bishop in Juice. Striker was a huge factor in Howard throwing three interceptions and completing less than 50% of his attempts.
If OU can cut down on penalties, get Mixon and Perine loose on the ground, have other receivers move the chains and open up the field for the gifted Shepard and the increasingly impressive Mayfield, with Charles Tapper, Zach Sanchez and Striker treating the opposition like Stab, Pee Wee and Zilla in House Party, the Sooners’ late-season showdown with Baylor and TCU should be more action-packed than The Five Deadly Venoms.
Elsewhere across the college landscape last weekend, we learned that there is still no dominant squad willing to assert its superiority. Previously unbeaten Ole Miss, Georgia, UCLA and Notre Dame suffered their first losses while Ohio State and Michigan State continued to look unremarkable.
UCLA bopped into its game against Arizona State as a dark horse and sexy pick as a potential playoff contender. But they limped out of their 38-23 loss like Paula Dean, a once cuddly household name reduced to a cautionary tale.
The Sun Devils, who led 29-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, acquitted themselves well after giving up 42 points at home to USC the week before. Things don’t look as promising for UCLA as they once did, considering that three of their top defensive players have been lost for the year due to injury
The Notre Dame/Clemson game was incredibly exciting down the stretch. The Tigers’ run defense looks legit, holding the Fighting Irish, who came in averaging close to 300 yards rushing per game to only 116. The next time you watch Clemson, peep their outstanding defensive end Shaq Lawson and the havoc he wreaks on opposing offenses.
The Tigers lost eight starters from its top-ranked defense last year, but the unit seems to have picked up where they left off.
Were you one of the mental midgets that declared the days of Nick Saban and Alabama’s national dominance a thing of the past after their fluky loss to Ole Miss? If so, hahaha, I laugh at you.
They cold-heartedly demolished Georgia, 38-10 in Athens, making an example of them like Frank Lucas did Tango in American Gangster. It was a brutally efficient display of composure and muscle.
If you thought Alabama was dead, you were terribly mistaken. They looked like a top-four team, scoring on offense, defense and special teams. Except for one long run, the Crimson Tide defense held Georgia’s superb running back Nick Chubb in check, while Derrick Henry won the much-anticipated backfield battle with 148 rushing yards and a score. QB Jake Coker looked extremely composed all game.
Let’s not forget that Alabama rebounded from last year’s loss to Ole Miss to gain a coveted playoff birth. I would not be surprised if it happened again. Saban chastised the media who'd been preparing his team's eulogy, while essentially going LL Cool J and yelling, "Don't Call It A Comeback!!!"
Speaking of Ole Miss, they also got stomped like a roach in their unanticipated 38-10 loss to Florida. Gators’ QB Will Grier carved up the Ole Miss defense like Hannibal Lecter, throwing for 271 yards and four touchdowns while completing 24 of his 29 passes.
No one predicted that Florida would sprint out to a 5-0 start. Their Halloween game against Georgia could decide the SEC East division championship. Now that the Gators will be playing some meaningful games down the homestretch, the casual fan should take advantage of watching the best cornerback in the nation, Vernon Hargreaves III.
And I know I keep slobbering like Dick Vitale whenever I talk about LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, but the young fella did something over the last three weeks that no other SEC running back ever has. Fournette’s latest masterpiece was gaining 233 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 26 carries against Eastern Michigan, including a beautiful 75-yard scamper for a score.
Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith and anyone else you want to name, none of them has ever rushed for 200 yards in three consecutive games like Fournette has.
The Heisman Trophy is his at the moment, with Alabama’s Henry, TCU QB Trevone Boykin, Ohio State’s RB Ezekiel Elliot, Baylor QB Seth Russell and Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield keeping the flickers of their candidacies alive.
This weekend, I’d recommend watching some of the Baylor/Kansas game, so you can at least say you witnessed a college football offense put up 80 points in one game.That Baylor offense is more explosive than a reality television drunken cat fight.
If you want to see another gridiron equivalent of the extreme beat-down that boxing legend Felix Trinidad once gave to wild man Ricardo Mayorga, Ohio State’s certain pummeling of Maryland should be right up your alley.
TCU is hitting their groove, scoring at least 50 points and putting up a minimum of 600 yards per game over their previous four games. And my goodness, they beat Texas last week, 50-7, as if the Longhorns had stolen their grandmomma’s rent money!
If it wasn’t for Fournette’s superfluous season at LSU, people would be stuttering and stammering like The Champ in Harlem Nights while talking about Trevone Boykin's 1,802 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 242 rushing yards.
Two of the biggest surprises of the young season will take center stage in Ann Arbor when #13 Northwestern visits #18 Michigan. The wildcats will be trying to get off to their first 6-0 start in 53 years. If you’re a fan of great defense, you’ll enjoy this one.
Florida State/Miami should be a good one as well. QB Everett Golson and the Seminoles offense has yet to turn the ball over this year. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is the big name running back in this game, but Miami’s Joseph Yearby is no slouch. For the Hurricanes to entertain any thoughts of winning, they will have to improve on their abysmal 24.5% third-down-conversion rate.
Utah vs. Cal features the Pac 12’s last remaining undefeated teams. The eyes of the entire country will be in Salt Lake City to determine if Utah is indeed a national championship contender, or simply a decent team with an excellent defense that most assumed they’d be when the season started.
Cal will be looking to get out to its first 6-0 start since 1950. Pay particular attention to Bears record-setting QB Jared Goff, who many pro scouts are projecting to be the first signal caller taken in the upcoming NFL Draft.