MORGANTOWN - There's good news and bad for West Virginia's somewhat-struggling offense this week, and both come in the style of defense the Mountaineers will face Saturday against No. 13 Oklahoma.
The good news is that perhaps for the first time all season - and certainly for the first time in the past four games - West Virginia won't see the style of defense that opponents have been borrowing from each other to stop an attack once thought nearly unstoppable. Oklahoma won't drop into deep, safe zone coverage designed to take away big plays.
But while that might be a welcome respite, the Sooners' version of the alternative is not. Oklahoma will match up four or five defenders against WVU's four or five receivers, play man-to-man coverage and simply see who is best.
The bad news is that, so far, Oklahoma has won those battles against everyone it has played.
"It boils down to they think they've got better players than [the opponents] they play,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "And that's why that scheme is pretty good, because they've got pretty good players.''
Indeed, while the teams that have managed to stop or dramatically slow down West Virginia's offense during the team's four-game losing streak have done so as much with scheme as personnel, Oklahoma seldom has an issue with personnel.
Much like other traditional powers the likes of Alabama, LSU, Texas, etc., the Sooners have a roster filled with five-star recruits. It's nice to pair those players with a good scheme, of course, but sometimes the best scheme that can be devised is one that simply allows talented players to show that they are better than those on the other team.
That's the relatively simple challenge facing West Virginia when the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) host the Sooners (7-2, 5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Field.
Simple to understand, that is; not simple to win.
What Oklahoma does on defense is unusual and certainly a nod toward combating the high-powered passing attacks in the Big 12. The Sooners will play a four-man front and behind that two and sometimes just one linebacker. On the back end are two safeties and in the middle three or four cover guys.
Mathematically, the alignment sometimes works out to almost a 4-1-4-2 or 4-2-3-2 alignment.
The basic idea seems to be this: There's a four-man front and a linebacker to play the run and rush the passer, cover guys in the middle to lock down one-on-one with wide receivers and the two safeties to either help in coverage or come up and fill in against the run.