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West Virginia up against ‘lethal’ Oklahoma

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Tony Gibson talks to Kenny Robinson (2) and Kenny Bigelow (40). — PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID PENNOCK

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Tony Gibson was asked how one goes about stopping Oklahoma's offense ahead of West Virginia's final home game of the season against the Sooners this Friday.

"You don't," the defensive coordinator said.

Gibson has seen enough of Oklahoma over the last five years to know better than to think his West Virginia defense is just going to shut down the Sooners.

"They don't have a lot of possessions, but they're lethal when they have the ball," Gibson said. "They run time off the clock, and they score points. They're efficient."

Gibson, of course, wasn't throwing his defense under the bus, he said. Rather, he was heaping praise on an Oklahoma offense that averages 49.5 points and 576.1 yards per game.

He has seen how hard it is to stop Kyler Murray, the superstar quarterback who turned down an MLB contract to finish out his career at Oklahoma. The Heisman Trophy candidate has completed 196 of 279 pass attempts for 3,310 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. He has 739 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns to his credit, too.

It's not Murray's rushing ability or his big-play capability that scares Gibson, though. It's how efficiently Murray runs — and executes — the offense.

"They've only punted 27 times all year," Gibson said. "That's the one where you say, 'Whoa.'"

Gibson spent so much time Tuesday talking about Oklahoma's offensive prowess that he reminded reporters on at least two specific occasions he believes his guys still have a chance to stop Murray and the Sooners.

"It's going to be a great challenge. By no means am I sitting here saying it's un-doable," he said on one occasion.

"Our kids will be juiced up. We're not going to back down. Don't take that out of anything that I'm saying," he said later.

You get a feeling, though, that exact thing could happen. Coming off a heartbreaking 45-41 defeat on the road that eliminated West Virginia from the College Football Playoff picture, the Mountaineers now have to face the daunting task of bouncing back and beating Oklahoma, which is playing for all the marbles at this point in the season.

It won't be easy, that's understood.

But at home, under the lights on a Friday night … Gibson gives his team a shot. And it seems the troops have, at least publicly, rallied behind that.

"I hope I don't (have to talk about the importance of the game)," Will Grier said. "I think everybody understands how important every game is. This game is really important, partly because it's the next one, and our goal is to be 1-0 every week."

Grier will need to do his part offensively to keep pace with the Sooners. West Virginia must capitalize on every stop — assuming the Mountaineers' defense gets one.

That, and West Virginia needs to watch the game film of Kansas' offense over and over and study how Pooka Williams averaged 17.2 yards per carry against the Sooners, amassing 252 yards on the ground.

"That's definitely been a focus point," said Kennedy McKoy, who gained a career-high 148 yards on the ground a week ago. "We've watched film on them over the past two days. We've seen some things that we can exploit."

On the other side, it will be about not getting exploited.

Gibson said after a chat with the stat guy on staff, Jed Drenning, he was made aware that West Virginia is one of only two teams to not allow a play over 50 yards this season.

For the season, Oklahoma has scored three touchdowns over 80 yards, three over 70 yards, three over 60 yards, four over 50 yards and five over 40 yards. Only two teams — Army and TCU — held the Sooners without at least a 40-yard scoring play.

The game plan is simple, one defender said.

"Just do your job," safety Toyous Avery said. "With this type of game, just do your job and lay it all out and try to make them pay. I feel like that will work."

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