Woodward, Okla. —
By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
Oklahoma has some problems, but it left Owen Field on Saturday knowing exactly who it is.
“We’re a smash-mouth team,” running back Brennan Clay said after the 16th-ranked Sooners rushed and defended their way to a 16-7 victory over West Virginia.
Running the ball and playing defense were the two things OU was very adept at. It rushed for 316 yards, marking the first time since 1997 OU has topped 300 yards on the ground in back-to-back games. And, outside of a 75-yard touchdown run by West Virginia’s Dreamius Smith midway through the first quarter, the Sooner defense thoroughly dominated the game.
“Holding them to that one touchdown felt good,” OU linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Overall, it was a great feeling to go out there and remain stout on defense.”
It was just a little over 10 months ago OU and West Virginia combined for more than 1,400 yards of total offense and 99 points.
OU needs a passing game to even think about winning a shootout right know. After Saturday night, it’s not even sure about who will be its starting quarterback when it plays Tulsa next Saturday.
OU coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel would not elaborate on the situation, but starter Trevor Knight got benched at the start of the fourth quarter.
The redshirt freshman was 10-for-20 and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Trey Millard early in the second quarter. At the time, it gave the Sooners a 10-7 lead and the small sense he was finding some sort of rhythm.
However, OU turned the ball over four times on its eight possessions. Knight fumbled on a fourth-down sack on the first drive and threw a pair of red zone interceptions in the third quarter.
Bell led OU on two four-plus minute scoring drives. The first resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt, which finally gave the Sooners a two-possession lead. Hunnicutt hooked a 35-yard attempt off the left crossbar with 61 seconds left.
“I’m not going to detail much of it,” Stoops said about the decision to go to Bell, “but at the end of the day this was a tight competition and I just feel that it wasn’t as good as we needed to be in the throwing game, so we gave him a chance.”
After two games, it’s become obvious the Sooners might be looking for a caretaker more than anything else at the quarterback spot.
The ability to run the ball shined through despite West Virginia stacking the line of scrimmage with eight or nine players.
Clay rushed for a career-high 170 yards and 132 of it came in the second half. Damien Williams rushed for 95 yards.
The tandem combined for 43 of OU’s 57 carries. They virtually were the offense in the second half. OU only attempted six passes after the intermission. Bell’s only passing attempt was on a screen pass.
“It’s exciting when you do that,” Stoops said. “The line blocked really well, and (fullbacks) Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski out there with the offensive line.”
OU could get away with playing smashmouth football because its defense kept bailing it out.
West Virginia quarterback Paul Millard was just 21 for 41 for 218 yards and the Mountaineers rushed for 169. But they had turnover problems as well.
After Smith’s early touchdown run, the Mountaineers went impotent, committing four turnovers. Two were in the third quarter when the Mountaineers had a real chance to seize control of the game.
OU safety Gabe Lynn had his hand in both, picking off a Millard pass early in the third quarter and recovering a fumble forced by fellow safety Quentin Hayes after the West Virginia receiver Kevin White had rumbled down to the OU 16.
They were the kind of plays the Sooner defense rarely made and didn’t make against the Mountaineers last season.
“Last year, offense bailed us out,” Lynn said. “We missed some tackles early on, myself included, so we’ll have to work on that. Besides that, we played really well tonight.”
And OU managed to win with a formula of running the ball and getting stops from its defense.
Stoops admitted after the game he doesn’t know who his starting quarterback will be when the Sooners face Tulsa at 11 a.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
But what Bell or Knight will be asked to do is going to be altered because of the way OU has run the ball and stopped West Virginia and Louisiana-Monroe in the season opener.
“Other teams get patted on the back and people say they’re tough and physical when they run for 300 yards and everybody is bragging them up,” Stoops said. “What’s wrong with us?”
Outside of having an ineffective passing game, nothing.