Oklahoma defense struggling heading into W. Virginia game
By CLIFF BRUNT
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Every week, the story seems the same - Oklahoma gives up a ton of points, yet Heisman contender Kyler Murray puts up crazy numbers and the Sooners pull out a victory.
The sixth-ranked Sooners (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) have allowed at least 40 points in victories over Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas the past three weeks. That winning formula that might not work against an offense the caliber of West Virginia's in a Friday showdown that will send the victor to the conference title game. The 12th-ranked Mountaineers (8-2, 6-2) have with their own Heisman candidate in quarterback Will Grier and an offense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring, total yards per game and yards passing per game.
The Sooners are still winning with interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, but their chances at reaching the College Football Playoff could vanish if things don't get better in a hurry. Despite the numbers, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley remains confident in McNeill and said he has seen improvement since firing Mike Stoops earlier in the season.
"I think our effort's been good," Riley said. "Would I say our effort's been elite all the time? Not all the time. It's been good, and I think it's been particularly good since we made the change. I don't think effort has been a major factor in the times when it hasn't gone well for us."
Kansas, one of the worst offensive teams in the Big 12, gained 524 yards against the Sooners in Oklahoma's 55-40 win on Saturday . Freshman Pooka Williams ran for a career-high 252 yards on just 15 carries for the Jayhawks.
"Last weekend, we didn't tackle well," Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray said. "We didn't play well as a group. A lot of times we were in position to make the play, but we just din't make the play. So as a group, we've got to get better at making plays. We've got to get better at finishing tackles. That's just something that we get together as a group and assess."
Linebacker Curtis Bolton, who led the Sooners with 10 tackles against Kansas, said Oklahoma's issues come even before tackling.
"Tackling is a byproduct of hustling to the ball," he said. "At the end of the day, we've got to hustle to the ball better. Tackling - a lot of form issues, yeah, but we need to run to the ball better before we talk about form tackling."
That's a lot to fix in a short time, given what West Virginia brings to the table. Grier ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency, receiver David Sills V is tied for second nationally with 13 receiving touchdowns and Kennedy McKoy is coming off a career-best 148-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma State.
Gary Jennings has 692 yards and 11 touchdowns receiving and Marcus Simms has 44 catches for 682 yards.
"I know Sills gets a lot of headlines, but they've got two or three other cats out there that are making a lot of other plays for them," Riley said. "They stretch you certainly. And they're running the football well, pretty experienced offensive line. Very good offense all the way around. Going to be challenged every way you can against this group."
Even with all that, Oklahoma has reason to be confident. The Sooners have won 16 straight November games dating back to 2014.
"This is how this one probably should come down to," Riley said. "It's kind of a perfect script for us, going and playing on the road, tough environment, good football team, lot of things on the line. That's just the way we like it. These are the kind of games we've been able to win here for the last few years.
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Updated November 19, 2018