By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It has been 31 years and four days since the West Virginia University football team played a football game in Norman, Okla.
On Sept. 11, 1982, the Mountaineers opened the season against the No. 9 Sooners with a new quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, and Coach Don Nehlen’s squad emerged with a 41-27 win over Barry Switzer’s team.
Fast forward three decades and nearly a year and tonight the Mountaineers return to Memorial Stadium for their Big 12 Conference opener against No. 16 Oklahoma before a national TV audience on the FOX network.
“We’re going into a place that’s incredibly hard to play,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “They (Oklahoma) are very well coached, have lots of good players. We’re very inexperienced. I have lots of concerns.
“OU is going to have some guys who can make some plays. We’ve got to be able to overcome that and just keep playing.”
Oklahoma is a 21-point favorite, with the point-spread increasing three points since the opening line was announced Sunday.
West Virginia is coming off an unimpressive 24-17 win over FCS opponent William & Mary. Oklahoma defeated Louisiana Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference, 34-0.
Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight completed 11-of-28 passes for 86 yards and ran for 103 yards on 13 carries in his first start as the Sooners quarterback. Damien Williams added 66 yards on the ground for Oklahoma.
Defensively the Sooners allowed ULM to complete 20-of-39 passes for 128 yards and picked off one pass. Oklahoma forced 10 punts in the game.
Paul Millard completed 19-of-25 passes with one score in his first start for the Mountaineers. Clint Trickett, who battled Millard and Ford Childress for the signal-calling position, saw action in only two series and was 0-for-2 in the passing department.
Charles Sims rushed 23 times for 120 yards in his West Virginia debut. Wendell Smallwood had 22 yards rushing including the game-winning score with just over three minutes to play. WVU ran for 172 yards in the opener.
“We ran the ball probably more than any time in the history of my coaching career,” Holgorsen said, “But I feel like it was the right thing to do.”
Defensively West Virginia allowed W&M to throw for 207 yards as Michael Graham completed 18-of-27 passes against a West Virginia defense that is out to prove it has improved since the 2012 season.
“It’ the same scheme, the same players, a different mentality,” Holgorsen said. “Our guys played pretty well (against William & Mary) except for giving up a couple of big plays.”
Key for West Virginia against the Tribe was the punting of Nick O’Toole. O’Toole kicked five times with an average of 50 yards per kick, including a long of 60.
“Talk about flipping the field,” Holgorsen said of his punter. “He was averaging over 50 yards a punt which when you are talking about hidden yardage, our defense was in great field position all day.”
Against Oklahoma’s touted defense, it could be O’Toole’s leg that again provides an edge for West Virginia.
Last season in Morgantown, WVU ripped through the Oklahoma defense for 778 yards, but lost 50-49. Gone from that team are the Mountaineers’ three top offensive performers, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but the Sooners may be susceptible to an air attack as ULM completed 20-of-39 passes last week. The rush defense was strong as OU yielded only 38 yards on the ground.
Kickoff is set for minutes after 7 p.m.
Mountaineer Moments: Oklahoma holds a 3-2 lead in the series against West Virginia. This is WVU’s third trip to Norman and the teams have met once in Morgantown and in the Fiesta Bowl.
— “Hail West Virginia,” “Fight Mountaineers,” and “Country Roads” will be heard at Memorial Stadium as ‘The Pride of West Virginia left aboard nine buses Thursday morning, headed West. It is the band’s first trip to a Big 12 football game.
— Peterstown High alumnus Steve Newberry played a major role in WVU’s 1982 win at Oklahoma. Newberry, a starting defensive back, had numerous tackles and an interception.
— Over the last 10 years Oklahoma has won the third most games in college football with 107. West Virginia and Alabama are tied for 12th with 94 wins apiece.