OU football: Three things the Sooners must do against West Virginia

Nov. 11—After dropped its fourth conference game, Oklahoma faces a tough challenge at West Virginia.

Historically, the Sooners have had no issues in Morgantown. They've won four straight games there, and they've won all nine games between the two teams since West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

The Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) are at the bottom of the Big 12, but they've been competitive in most of their games. The Sooners need a win to clinch bowl eligibility, and it won't be easy on the road.

Here's three things the Sooners need to do to secure a much-needed win:

1. Use Eric Gray in the passing game

It was the running back's calling card before he transferred to OU.

The Sooners have used Gray sparingly in the passing game in the past two seasons, as Gray entered last Saturday's game with 16 catches on the season. But he played a huge receiving role against the Bears, finishing with a season-high eight catches for 58 yards.

OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said his involvement was due to the alignment of Baylor's defense, but the Sooners may have stumbled upon something big.

Gray has been very effective in the running game, and he turned in another performance of more than 100 yards against the Bears. He also had a season-high 31 touches. Gray is too valuable to the Sooners' offense to be used as just a runner, and he could provide a safety valve for OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel in the passing short.

In other words, the Sooners need to get Gray the ball and find different ways to do it.

2. Keep Jalil Farooq involved

He's been one of the Sooners' most consistent players this season.

He got another two carries against the Bears and took them for 15 yards, as the Sooners have committed to using him occasionally as a running back. He also added three catches for 39 yards.

He now has 101 rushing yards in his last four games, and they'll need to keep him involved against West Virginia.

But for OU coach Brent Venables, Farooq has brought more value to the team than being a reliable pass catcher and runner.

"(I) love how he's created value for himself through his opportunities," Venables said. "A lot of guys want to complain about whatever role they don't have, the opportunities they don't have, then when the opportunities for them to step up and be a contributor come, they miss the opportunity because they're not ready or they're in the wrong state of mind.

"For him, he's been a great teammate. He's coming to work every day. Whatever opportunity he's given, he's come through, he's delivered. He's made the most of his own opportunity, which has created more and more confidence in him. He's done a lot of the stuff that we've seen him to do from blocking to a lot of the tough running after the catch that everybody loves to see. You see tremendous will and fight and toughness and competitiveness when you watch Jalil play. He's been one of our more consistent players all year. I'm really, really proud of him."

3. Keep the West Virginia passing game in check

It's been the focus for the Mountaineers all season.

They have 340 passing attempts compared to 317 carries, and starting quarterback J.T Daniels hasn't been shy about throwing the ball. He's thrown for 2041 yards on the season and has 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Mountaineers have been fine running the ball — they average 161 yards per game — but the passing game is the priority for their offense. The Sooners have also been much better at defending the pass compared to the run. The Bears recorded nearly 300 rushing yards last week and only 143 passing yards.

The Sooners' secondary hasn't been perfect, and Daniels will likely find some success. But if they can make the Mountaineers' offense one-dimensional, it bodes well for their chances to win.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580