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November 16, 2012

HD: What are Sooners walking into in Morgantown?

It's always hard to tell what's happening inside a program like West Virginia from the outside looking in. What has happened to a West Virginia team who started out as one of the hottest teams in the country?

Well, for one, their defense has been, as Mike Stoops described OU's tackling last week against Baylor, atrocious.

110th in the country in total defense.

Ranked 117th in scoring defense.

Atrocious.



Those close to the West Virginia program, like WVSports.com's beat writer Kennan Cummings told me Dana Holgorsen is practicing patience when it comes to the performance of his defense.

He says that's not true for the Mountaineer fan base, a crowd which is restless and demanding change on that side of the ball, which would start with the ouster of defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.

WVU is young, Cummings tells me. Particularly in the back end.

From the outside looking in, West Virginia's head coach seems to look toward Norman with a covetous eye.

"Mike (Stoops) is back with them after being a head coach at Arizona for a while, but you can tell that it has made a difference," said Holgorsen in his weekly press conference's opening statement. "It has made a difference from a discipline, effort and scheme standpoint. They play with tremendous effort. They are very sound, and they are very physical. They are very talented. All those things exist with their defense."

From the inside, you start to notice Holgorsen sees a lot of things in OU's defense he doesn't see in his own.

"They are very talented in the back end," Holgorsen said. "They have got two great safeties that tackle well. They lead their team in tackles."

It's as if Holgorsen's message is as much about his own team as the one he's getting ready to play tomorrow.

"There are going to be one-on-one matchups everywhere, and they are going to take pride in the fact that they are going to win those one-on-one matchups," he said.

OK, so that's not really reaching. Holgorsen's obviously issuing a challenge to his defense, and particularly his defensive backs.

"This is probably one of the most talented groups of receivers we have faced all year and possibly in the country," Holgorsen said. "Kenny Stills has been there for a while and is good. They hit two home runs on two transfers. The (Justin) Brown kid from Penn State, and the (Jalen) Saunders kid from Fresno are special."

West Virginia has no chance against the Sooners if their 110th ranked defense shows up. Holgorsen knows this. He wants West Virginia to know things can turn around quickly from a defensive standpoint.

Just as Stoops has proven in Norman.

From the inside, it appears he's hoping to rally the troops for one performance, one shot that can salvage the disaster that has become their season.

This is no longer that team in Morgantown that destroyed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. This is a team on the ropes, backs against the wall.

It's a game his team has circled since the summer, just like Oklahoma players circled it.

It's a lot to ask, but it's been done before.

In 2011, Oklahoma entered a de facto Big 12 Conference Championship game against an Oklahoma State team ranked 107th in total defense.

The Sooners were mauled in Stillwater, losing 44-10.

A loss in Morgantown isn't out of the question. Not if Holgorsen's challenge plants a spark in those defenders who have been so inconsistent this season.

The 2012 season for Oklahoma hasn't been about which teams they can beat. Oklahoma has been in every game it has played. But turnovers, third-down conversion defense and special teams have determined whether this team is good or great.

West Virginia has lost four conference games in a row. But Oklahoma isn't just another conference game. It's a chance for redemption. If Smith is on early, if Mike Stoops' defense isn't ready to play at kickoff, the Mountaineers could steal back some of that Clemson swagger they've lost.

With so much outside chaos surrounding him this week, Holgorsen sure seems like a coach working from the inside to build a blueprint for the upset.

That's the scary part when you can't really see things from the outside looking in.


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