NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma believes it still has plenty to play for, despite dropping out of first place in the Big 12 and likely falling out of the race for a College Football Playoff berth.
The 17th-ranked Sooners won their first seven games before close losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State, but they still have a shot at playing in the Big 12 Championship Game. They sit one game behind co-leaders Oklahoma State and Texas in the league standings heading into Saturday's contest against West Virginia with three games to play.
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said the Sooners (7-2, 4-2 Big 12, No. 17 CFP) are still motivated.
“I see a team that’s determined, passionate and they care and they work and they respond and they’re tough,” he said.
Venables said the Sooners will have to clean up mistakes to get back on track. They had three turnovers and eight penalties against Oklahoma State.
“Everybody has ownership, but it starts and ends with the coaches,” Venables said. “So, Coach Venables, he’s an undisciplined coach, and the players are playing undisciplined. Until you get it right, that’s fair. It’s fair. Shoot the arrows. And our job is to fix it. Period.”
To remain in the Big 12 hunt, the Sooners will need to beat a West Virginia team that has just as much to play for. The Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2) also are one game out of the Big 12 lead and are on the cusp of cracking the Top 25 for the first time in Brown’s five-year run with the program.
The Mountaineers were picked last in the preseason media poll.
“Week in and week out, we’ve got to prove that’s not who we are,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said.
The offense, led by quarterback Garrett Greene and running backs CJ Donaldson and Jahiem White, has been hot lately. Greene is a dual threat who has 458 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. Donaldson, a 238-pound bruiser, has 676 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. White is a speedster who averages 8.3 yards per carry. They pace a unit that ranks seventh nationally with 218 yards per game rushing
“I really felt like we were going to take off offensively," Brown said. "We’re throwing the ball downfield better, which helps. There’s a lot of things we could do better, but we’re starting to hit our stride.”
West Virginia has allowed 35 points or more three times this season yet held three other opponents under 300 total yards, including last week in a 37-7 win over BYU. Safety Aubrey Burks said he couldn’t explain why the Mountaineers’ defense has been up and down.
“We’ve got to be more consistent every game, especially in November,” he said. “We’ve got to be more consistent through these next three games if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”
Brown said the Mountaineers need to improve their pass rush to try to slow Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who ranks fourth nationally in total offense with 325.9 yards per game.
“He’s played at a high level,” Brown said. “A lot of respect for him.”
Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman was snubbed as a finalist for the Butkus Award.
Stutsman was a second-team AP midseason All-American. He ranks second in the Big 12 with 9.1 tackles per game and he’s 10th nationally with 1.4 tackles for loss per game.
“I don’t really have any kind of comment on a list that he’s left off of, but he’s a fantastic linebacker, has a chance to be as good as that we’ve ever had,” Venables said.
Stutsman missed last week’s game against Oklahoma State with a leg injury he suffered against Kansas. Venables said he practiced Monday.
Oklahoma receiver Drake Stoops has become Gabriel's top target. Stoops caught 12 passes for 134 yards last week against Oklahoma State and leads the Sooners with 52 receptions this season. He is a top-10 finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the nation’s top player who started his career as a walk-on.
DECIDED BY KICKS
“We’ve still got a sour taste in our mouth about the last time we were there, when we got beat on a walk-off field goal,” Brown said. “It felt like we were in control of the game. That’s really the motivation."
Oklahoma leads the series 11-3, and 9-1 in Big 12 games by an average of 42-28. The Sooners have scored at least 44 points in seven of those games, including six of the last eight meetings.
AP Sports Writer John Raby contributed to this report.
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