A month into the 2015 season, No. 23 West Virginia is among the most well-rounded teams in the Big 12 Conference — a conference that has half of its teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25.
Few expected the Mountaineers to be formidable this year: Sports Illustrated projected them to go 6-6; nearly all of CBS Sports’ panel pegged them to finish fifth or lower in the conference; and USA Today posited that the team’s best-case scenario was winning nine games and flirting with a national ranking.
After putting up 40-plus in each of the first three games, the Mountaineers rank No. 17 in offensive efficiency. The offensive unit, now under quarterback Skyler Howard—who leads the Big 12 in completion percentage (69), and is second in quarterback rating (193.6)—has turned the ball over twice.
However, what’s more impressive is the stellar play of their defense, which ranks No. 10 in efficiency while holding opponents to 7.7 points per game, the lowest average of any team in the country.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s outfit has produced 11 turnovers in three games. Safety Karl Joseph, who hits receivers like he’s trying to decapitate them, is one of two players in the country with four interceptions, and holds down the backside of a secondary that’s allowing 154 yards per game. The past three seasons, it has allowed 230-plus. In total, the team’s mind-boggling plus-nine turnover margin leads the nation.
But the Mountaineers are giving up more yards on the ground than through the air, and are allowing opponents to pick up 4.1 yards per rush attempt.
Since 2000, the Sooners are 101-11 when they pick up better than four yards per carry, and the team is picking up 4.27 yards per carry thus far. However, Oklahoma is attempting just the seventh-most carries of any Big 12 team. If West Virginia forces turnovers early, it may be more advantageous for the Sooners to test their luck on the ground with running back Samaje Perine.
The Mountaineers are remarkably balanced offensively this season, but have yet to truly square off against a stout defensive unit. Oklahoma has won 91.3 percent of its home games since 2000 for a reason, and should walk away with a win Saturday.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.