By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Big 12 Conference play gets off to an early start when West Virginia plays at No. 15 Oklahoma Saturday. The Mountaineers, long with TCU, are going into their second season in the league. In one season, though, they had impact even though the finished with a 7-6 record.
The Sooners won in Morgantown 50-49 last November In that victory, however, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards and had 572 all-purpose yards. The Mountaineers finished with more yards (778) than any other OU opponent had ever gained. Those yardage totals, plus allowing 633 yards to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, left Oklahoma ready for a change.
“We gave up nearly 800. That was a hard thing to swallow,” OU defensive back Julian Wilson said of the West Virginia game.
“I definitely still think about last year,” Oklahoma defensive back Gabe Lynn said. “It was horrible on our part, giving up almost 800 yards. That's ridiculous.”
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops spent the off-season tinkering with alignments and personnel packages. Last season the Sooners too often failed to adjust to what the offense was doing. In the season opener against Louisiana Monroe and veteran quarterback Kolton Browing, the Sooners were dominant and aggressive.
“We just didn’t put our players in a good enough position as a coach to make plays and that’s frustrating. It was just a long and difficult night,” Stoops said. “Between that night and what happened in the bowl game, it obviously convinced us that we needed to adjust our defense, be more flexible and be more diverse and put more pressure on the quarterback.
“We were a little more of a react team a year ago, and now we're probably attacking more, but still, it's a controlled attack scheme.”
Austin’s incredible numbers against OU last year wasn’t an anomaly. He averaged 224 yards per game in total offense. The Mountaineers’ use of Austin – one play as a running back, the next as a wide receiver on a deep route, then as a slot receiver running a bubble screen – clicked a light bulb for Big 12 offensive coordinators.
At least three Big 12 teams – Kansas, Iowa State and Texas – all have talked about having a “Tavon Austin-type” player in their offensive schemes. The Jayhawks have moved Tony Pierson to a hybrid running back/receiver position. The Cyclones hope to use junior-college transfer Aaron Wimberly as West Virginia used Austin.
And the Longhorns think that sophomore Daje’ Johnson can use his speed as a running back and a receiver; he had a career-high 139 all-purpose yards in the season opener.
“I like to compare myself to Tavon Austin on athletic ability,” Johnson told ESPN.com “I’m embracing (my role) pretty well, taking a new role day by day. I know they’ve given me a lot of plays to work on.”
How It Came To Be
Saturday’s game with West Virginia will be the earliest conference game Oklahoma has ever played. It will be the earliest the Sooners have ever played a league game. The contest will be the Big 12’s first appearance on FOX this season.
Both teams originally had an open date.
"It was more the network's desire to have good matchups at the beginning of the year,” West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck told the Charleston Gazette. "Usually there are great conference matchups in October. But sometimes there's a dearth in September. … Conference matchups, by and large, are more attractive.”
Luck said he asked West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen about moving the game to Week Two.
“I've been asked a lot if I'm excited about playing Oklahoma in Week 2 or if I'd rather play them Week 12,” Holgorsen said this week. “The truth is I'd rather play them never because they're pretty good. I don't know if it really matters, to be honest with you.”
Kansas Kicks It Off
While the other nine Big 12 teams got the 2013 season started last weekend, Kansas had to wait until Week Two to open. The Jayhawks will face South Dakota, an FCS school. The team practiced Saturday morning after a “double” wakeup call.
First, it was the alarm clocks (most probably emanating from smart phones) rousting the players. Then it was a meeting with coach Charlie Weis who pointed out that FCS team North Dakota State had upset Sunflower State rival Kansas State the night before.
“Oh, we had a team meeting and that was the first rattle out of my mouth,” Weis said. “‘Did you watch these games fellas? You see what’s going on out there? This is what happens. If you think you’re just going to show up and just roll over people, it just doesn’t work that way.’ Because we didn’t play, it was a great teaching tool.”
South Dakota opened with a 10-7 victory over UC-Davis. Weis said he paid $10 so he could watch the game on-line on the Coyote Network.
"They're coming off a similar season to us," Weis said. "Having early success in their opener gives them a little bit of a jump start to us, because they've already got one under their belt with a victory."
Big Game In San Antonio
No. 13 Oklahoma State plays at UT-San Antonio, a program that has been in existence for three years. Larry Coker, the former Miami (Fla.) coach, is the Roadrunners’ coach and he was an assistant for the Cowboys when coach Mike Gundy was the quarterback.
“To win the game would be tremendous for our recruiting,” said Coker, whose team went 8-4 last season and defeated New Mexico, 21-13, last Saturday. “I think it puts us on the map with the game being televised nationally. We’ve sold about 15,000 season tickets and I think we’ll have a great crowd on Saturday.
“This is the most talented team we’ve played. I want this to be a fun week for our players, staff and fans. It’s kind of a bowl atmosphere as far as getting a team like Oklahoma State down here. The fact that Oklahoma State wants to play here says a lot for our city and our fans. I want our guys to enjoy this experience. It’s all about us and all about our players. It is a big week for us.”
* Defensive back Cassius Sendish, one of about 20 junior-college transfers on the Kansas roster, spent most of training camp working as the nickel back. Before the opener, though, he has been moved to free safety. That’s because junior Victor Simmons, a former linebacker, has been a breakout player. He’ll play the nickel position, which is a hybrid linebacker/defensive back in the Jayhawks’ revamped defense.
* Oklahoma State first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was named the national coordinator of the week by AthlonSports.com. In the season opener, the Cowboys limited Mississippi State to 333 total yards and three touchdowns. Oklahoma State had 10 tackles for loss.
* Iowa State junior center Tom Farniok suffered a strained MCL in his right knee in the season opener and is expected to miss the Cyclones’ game with Iowa on Sept. 14. Farniok made his 27th consecutive start against Northern Iowa.
* Braxton Kooser was a huge Kansas State football fan. He had a picture taken last season after K-State clinched the Big 12 championship and said it was “a night I will never forget.” Kooser was 14 when he died in a car accident last January. The Wildcats are wearing purple rubber bracelets with “Braxton Kooser” in white letters. One of Kooser’s friends contacted K-State quarterback Daniel Sams about the bracelets and Sams completed the pass.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads on what his team will work on in the off week before playing host to Iowa on Sept. 14:
“The mother of all learning is repetition. You crawl, you walk, you talk, and then you build it to speed. At this point in the year, you’re looking to improve every facet of the game. Everything needs to improve.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis on two FCS teams winning season openers against Big 12 opponents:
“I think too many times people underestimate preparation. Watching those teams win was not a big surprise. There are a lot of good football coaches out there and there are a lot of good football players. And time is a great equalizer. Any time you have that much time to prepare for an opponent, I think you’d better be ready because anyone can win in a game like that.”
Defensive lineman Kerry Hyder on Texas Tech’s home opener against Stephen F. Austin, a team from the FCS that recorded a record eight victories over FBS opponents in Week One:
“We’re definitely aware of it. We know that SFA’s going to come out and play their hardest. We’re not really worried about exactly what they’re going to do. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and come out and play our game.”
Baylor defensive end Chris McAllister on the defense stifling Wofford in the opener and continuing to play like it did in the Holiday Bowl victory:
“The UCLA game set the bar and that’s what we’re trying to get back to. We have a lot of guys that came back from last year’s team and we have a lot of the young guys that are going to stay and play well like they did today.”
Texas senior safety Adrian Phillips on the Longhorn’s game at BYU Saturday:
“When I think about road games, I just think about going into someone’s house and getting a W. Seeing the look on their fans’ faces when you walk into their home and take them out. When
you talk about playing at home, you talk about wanting to protect your house and BYU is going to try to do that.”