NORMAN — Oklahoma opens Big 12 play a little earlier than usual in 2013.
The Sooners host West Virginia on Sept. 7 in their second game of the season. Last year, of course, OU won a 50-49 shootout in Morgantown, W.Va., in the two teams’ first meeting as conference foes.
The Mountaineers lose offensive stars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey from last year’ squad, so they’ve obviously got some big shoes to fill.
Continuing my blog series with a beat writer from each of OU’s 2013 opponents, Allan Taylor from MetroNews was kind enough to answer a few questions about West Virginia.
You can follow Allan on Twitter @AllanTaylorWVU.
The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday at noon for the next several weeks.
1. First and foremost, how the heck does West Virginia plan to replace all the offensive playmakers it lost? In your opinion, who steps up to fill those roles?
The simultaneous exodus of quarterback Geno Smith (back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons), top receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and three O-line starters left the offense in open-audition mode.
The quarterback battle between junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress became more crowded when Florida State Clint Trickett — a junior with immediate eligibility — transferred to WVU in April. He’s a former Morgantown kid who likely wouldn’t have returned without some confidence he could win the job.
The receiving corp lost 315 catches and returns only 63. (Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson cracked that WVU has more drops coming back than catches.) The search for “the next Tavon” is futile, because his sort of elusiveness is rare, but the Mountaineers have a trio of junior college receivers, led by Kevin White, and four-star freshman Shelton Gibson who will try to pick up the production.
2. The WVU-Oklahoma game was obviously one of the most memorable for both squads last season. How much did that one hurt for not only the players and coaches, but the fans?
The highlight-heavy game was a rarity in that even the losing side recognized what a breathless evening of football it was. (The irony is that West Virginia came within a point of sweeping Texas and OU, and still didn’t factor in the Big 12 race.) Ultimately, the loss cemented Dana Holgorsen’s decision to shuffle his defensive staff, and also doomed WVU to the blustery torment of the Pinstripe Bowl.
3. West Virginia was expected by many to take the Big 12 by storm last season, but it didn’t quite work out like that. Do you think those expectations got to the Mountaineers?
The preseason excitement around that new-league smell was exponentially heightened by the 5-0 start and Smith’s rapid climb to Heisman frontrunner. Alas, the back-to-back cross-country trips to Austin and Lubbock were the kind of scheduling hump great teams can overcome, but WVU revealed itself to be far from that.
The Mountaineers’ defense might have looked functional against a Big East schedule, but it simply lacked the skill and experience to compete against the sharp, uptempo offenses of the Big 12.
4. All things considered, how would you grade West Virginia’s first Big 12 football season?
A to F, I’d give it a D, because the program went 7-6 with a collection of offensive playmakers the program may never enjoy again. On the Mohs hardness scale, I’d score it a 1, because there was a noticeable void of toughness as the season started unraveling. By the time WVU was getting pummeled by Syracuse in Yankee Stadium, the fight was completely gone.
5. The Mountaineers lost offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh to Oklahoma. How much did his departure sting the folks in Morgantown?
Losing the Bill-dozer less than a week after signing day was a jolt, though the bigger burn was losing to him another Big 12 program. Holgorsen backfilled in strong fashion nine days later by luring West Virginia native Ron Crook from Stanford.
Bedenbaugh was one of five assistants gone from last season’s staff: quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital (Texas A&M), running backs coach Robert Gillespie (Tennessee), cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts (fired) and special teams coordinator Steve Dunlap (reassigned).