Road games dominate early Big 12 schedule

OSU first home conference encounter

The following is the second of a five-part series dealing with the West Virginia University Mountaineers’ 2013 regular-season schedule. Part II deals with the team’s opening three games in its new home-the Big 12.

MORGANTOWN-Big 12 play opens early and on the road for Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers as WVU takes on Oklahoma in Norman the second week of the season.

at Oklahoma

Saturday, Sept. 7 (7 p.m.)

It was, without a doubt, one of the wildest games ever played at Mountaineer Field.

West Virginia’s defense couldn’t stop Oklahoma’s Landry Jones’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds remaining to lift the then-No. 13 Sooners to a dramatic 50-49 come-from-behind victory over the Mountaineers.

The loss left the old gold and blue at 5-5 on the season and, more importantly, 2-5 in the Big 12, meaning that WVU would be saddled with its first losing conference mark in its inagural season. Not exactly what Mountaineer fans had in mind when they cheered their team through five straight victories to open the 2012 campaign and a top-5 national ranking.

Jones finished with a school-record 554 yards passing and tied his school mark of six touchdown passes to overshadow an amazing effort by WVU’s Tavon Austin. The Mountaineer senior rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for 82 more yards. Junior Stedman Bailey chipped in with 205 yards on 13 catches as Geno Smith connected on 20-of-35 attempts for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

However, to avenge that setback WVU will have to travel to a place that is the site of one of the greatest victories in Mountaineer history, but also one which has witnessed very few losses by the Sooners-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.

The year was 1982. Then-head coach Don Nehlen and his Mountaineers were coming off a 9-3 season and looking for a big road win to kick start them into the 1983 campaign. They were traveling to a location, however, where two previous teams had come back with lopsided defeats (52-10 in 1978 and 47-14 in 1958).

Experts expected a third straight one-sided victory for the Sooners, but were shocked when the Mountaineers came out on top by a 41-27 margin. WVU will need some of that magic again when they open Big 12 play in the home of the Sooners.

The good news for WVU fans is that Oklahoma will be without the services of Jones and Stills. However, the bad news is that the Mountaineers won’t have Smith, Austin and Bailey attacking the Sooners’ defense, and former WVU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will be roaming the home team’s sideline.

Offensively, Oklahoma returns running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay. The duo combined for more that 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago and will be instrumental in helping keep defenses honest while Blake “the Belldozer” Bell becomes more comfortable with leading returning receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard.

Defensively, this will still be primarily the same unit which the Mountaineers gutted for nearly 800 yards and 49 points. The unit is spearheaded by seniors Aaron Colvin, an All-Big 12 selection a year ago, and linebacker Corey Nelson.

Oklahoma State

Saturday, Sept. 28 (TBA)

Game two in Big 12 play, and WVU’s home opener in the conference, will witness the Cowboys from Oklahoma State making only their second trip ever to Morgantown.

Head coach Mike Gundy returns a veteran unit from an 8-5 squad that defeated Purdue by a 58-14 margin in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Senior quarterback Clint Chelf headlines an offense that brings back 10 starters while defensively the Cowboys return eight players that ranked sixth in the Big 12, allowing 421.7 yards and 28.2 points per game.

Chelf enjoyed a near-perfect day a year ago, completing 22-of-31 attempts for 292 yards in a 55-34 win. But the difference in that game came on special teams where OSU’s Justin Gilbert returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Conversely, the Mountaineers muffed a kickoff and a punt that resulted in turnovers and Tavon Austin was tackled at WVU’s eight-yard line in the fourth quarter with the game still in reach.

While Chelf, who passed for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdown last saeson, came out of the spring atop the depth chart, sophomore J.W. Walsh (109-of-163, 1,564 yards, 13 TD) could just as well be the starting signal-caller for the teams’ showdown on Sept. 28.

The receiving corps is solid despite the loss of Stills, returning Charlie Moore (35-542, 6 TD), Blake Jackson (30-598, 3 TD), Austin Hays (29-394, 2 TD) and Tracy Moore (20-259, 4 TD). And while Joseph Randle may be gone, the Cowboys’ running game will still be a force with the return of Jeremy Smith (70-371, 8 TD) and Desmond Roland (46-301, 4 TD).

Special teams will be just as efficient with the return of Quinn Sharp, who led the team in scoring with 156 points and averaged 46.3 yards per punt in 2012.

at Baylor

Saturday, Oct. 5 (TBA)

WVU returns to the road for the Mountaineers’ third Big 12 contest of the season and you can bet head coach Art Briles and his Baylor Bears would like nothing more than to get a little payback for last year’s 70-63 loss in Morgantown.

To accomplish that feat however, the Bears will have to do so without the services of quarterback Nick Florence and wide receiver Terrance Williams-both drafted by the NFL.

The offense is anchored by six returing starters, including All-American guard Cyril Richardson and All-American candidate Lache Seastrunk, who became the third straight rusher at Baylor to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark when he rushed for 1,012 yards during the Bears’ 8-5 campaign last year.

Junior Bryce Petty came out of the spring atop the depth chart at quarterback and will have the luxury of having one of the most dynamic rushing duos in the Big 12 lining up behind him-senior Glasco Martin and Seastrunk.

Martin finished with 889 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012 and could make teams pay dearly for spending too much time attempting to slow down Seastrunk. The receiving corp, even with the loss of Williams and All-Big 12 honoree Lanear Sampson, will be deep and talented with senior Tevin Reese and junior Levi Norwood leading the way.

Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s third unit returns a ton of experience as well as the team’s top four tacklers. Baylor fans witnessed the development of the defense as it was a big reason the Bears won five of their final six regular-season games and then went on to dominate UCLA 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.

The unit is led by lineman Chris McAllister, linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey, and safety Ahmad Dixon. The most experienced group will be the secondary with Dixon, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree, moving back to safety with veteran Sam Holl moving up to the nickel-back position.

Experience will also be a key ingredient in the special teams with the return of kicker Aaron Jones and punter Spencer Roth.