WVU’s Paul Millard showcased a solid arm and understanding of the offense, helping the Mountaineers to 409 yards of offense, 237 passing, in the workmanlike win over William and Mary. Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, a redshirt freshman, busted out his team’s new offensive approach by rushing for 103 yards and three touchdowns, while completing just 11 of 28 passes with one interception and no scores. Three of his early tosses were completely off target, and a couple more were nearly picked by a game Louisiana-Monroe defense that ultimately wilted under the relentlessness of Knight’s escapability behind a veteran line.
“He did some things really well with his legs,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “When you rush for over 100 yards, that part was really good. Throwing the ball early wasn’t very good, but I have great confidence in how he does throw the ball and once he settles down and gets more comfortable with the situation, I expect him to throw the ball in a better way. He made some throws, particularly in the second half, and he has a great arm. It’s getting him comfortable to handle and manage the situation better early.”
Sounds much like the situation in Morgantown. Millard, while certainly more comfortable than Knight, should further develop with more live game snaps. The junior was steady, other than a fumble just before the half, and seems poised and patient, traits that will serve him well in Norman. Knight, to his credit, played about as well as OU fans could have hoped against a talented ULM program that returns most of its starters from a team that won at Arkansas and forced Auburn into overtime before losing.
“He just needs to keep getting snaps,” Stoops said of Knight, who became the first Sooner quarterback in 12 years to rush for more than 100 yards. “He is a great leader and players realize how hard he works and he is a great teammate and a great kid. He has respect; he is a serious kid in how he works.”
Stoops said the defensive, coordinated by his brother, Mike, the former Arizona head coach, played more “50” fronts, or alignments with the weak and strongside linebackers pushing up to scrimmage alongside the three traditional down linemen. Oklahoma, which typically operates out of a 4-2-5, held ULM to just 166 total yards, 38 on the ground, and a two of 16 third-down conversion rate. The Warhawks failed to convert either of their two fourth downs.
“We had faster guys on the field that made more plays,” Stoops said. “The line was very active, as were our linebackers, and they executed well. It was very pleasing. (UML) is a very good offensive football team and they had eight starters back on offense. Everybody talked about how it was their year. I thought our communication, our adjustments, all of that was as good as we have had in a long, long time. We had very few communication or adjustment problems. Players did a great job being where they were supposed to be. I thought our effort and tackling were really, really good. That’s something you can build upon.
“I’m very aware in today’s world, with the parity and limited scholarships, there’s good players everywhere. Anybody for the most part can beat anyone on a given day if you’re not playing your best and the other team is at their best. It can happen, and it does every week.”
It almost did to West Virginia, which allowed 17 consecutive points by William and Mary, falling behind 17-7, before ultimately righting the ship, showing increased discipline and shutting out the Tribe in the second half in a 24-17 win.
“They are still in the 50 front (at times) and doing a lot of movement and blitzing and trying to get pressure from that area,” Stoops said of WVU’s defense. “They try to do that a year ago and they looked fast and aggressive and I thought they played well in their first game.”
On offense, the Mountaineers used a run-first approach, keeping the ball on the ground far more than at any time during the Dana Holgorsen era. It played to the team’s strength, and it seems the most logical approach to facing an Oklahoma team with a stout defense, but an offense that lacks the explosion it did a year ago.
“Dana doesn’t change his system much, which he shouldn’t,” Stoops said. “They do an excellent job and I am familiar with how they run their offense being that we’ve had it here for a long time, too, going back to (former Oklahoma assistant and current Washington State head coach) Mike Leach. We still have a lot of the parts of our offense that are the same as what they are doing. Dana does it well and you still see a lot of the same things. No surprises; maybe a little more emphasis on running the football. Dana likes to run the football, and they ran it on us a year ago. That will be a big challenge.”
Of the early Big 12 Conference game date, Stoops shrugged it off as part scheduling, part modern-day college football. “We had an open date, they had one, and we both agreed to it,” he said. “We feel, as far as the way the season goes, it’s the best thing to do for your program. Otherwise, we would have had another open week, and then we have an open week in a couple weeks. It fit better for us. It’s challenging. You have to be ready, whether it’s a conference game or not.”