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WVU Set to Battle Sooners Tonight

January 2, 2008
By MICKEY FURFARI, For The Inter-Mountain
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Interim head coach Bill Stewart thinks West Virginia (10-2) is as ready as it could be for the 37th annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl football game against favored Oklahoma (11-2) here tonight.

“I hope we have enough bullets in our gun,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “I know we do.

“We don’t want to go out there and play not to lose. We want to play to win. We’re going to empty the holster.”

Stewart said the Mountaineers, ranked No. 9 and 11 in the two major polls, feel their chances are good against Oklahoma, ranked No. 3.

The Sooners remain 7 1/2-point favorites for the contest at the University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale.

With an 8 p.m. (EST) kickoff, the game will be televised nationally by the Fox network.

“It should match up to be a great game,” Stewart said. “It really should. I hope it goes right to the wire ... and let the best team win at the end.

“I hope it’s a tremendous game, because we sure want it to be. We want to get out there and show America that we’re not a bad football team, either.”

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma’s veteran coach, said the Sooners also are looking forward to a great game.

“I feel like our team really has had a great week of practice and has been attentive at meetings off and on the field,” he reported.

“Compliments to West Virginia. Coach Stewart and his staff have done a great job keeping that team together. We feel it is a challenge, but an exciting one.”

Stoops doesn’t think the loss of three defensive starters will hurt OU much, if at all. He figures that having rotated players up front and in the secondary should offset those losses.

“We feel in the end we’ll be fine,” he said. “It doesn’t change anything for us.”

Both coaches are expecting a big, hard-hitting physical contest.

What are the keys to West Virginia’s chances of winning a third consecutive bowl battle?

“First of all, offensively we have to do what we do best,” Stewart said. “Move the ball around (in the air as well as on the ground).

“Secondly, numbers 2, 5, 10 and 35 must touch the ball — Darius Reynaud, Patrick White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt.

“If those four touch the ball, defensively we just have to keep Oklahoma off balance. Stop the run. Put pressure on their passer and be sound.

“They’ve got the biggest lines in football. We’ve got to be quick and outmaneuver them.

“Stay low, have leverage, and take them on man-to-man.”

These are two of the nation’s highest scoring teams, OU ranking third averaging 43.8 points per game and WVU 11th at 38.9.

Obviously, both teams also have been highly productive. The Mountaineers are averaging 450.5 yards per game to rank 19th in total offense and the Sooners are one notch better averaging 451.2.

While WVU relies heavily on rushing (292.9 ypg for No. 4 ranking), OU emphasizes passing (259.5 ypg and only 191.8 rushing).

Stoops said, “I look at our efficiency on offense. But because we are balanced, nobody wants to say we’re great at running it or just great at throwing it.

“I think defensively, we have been able to adapt to the different styles we play. Whether someone wants to be physical and run it or spread us out and make us cover and tackle in space, we have been able to do both.

“But I think we’re more than solid in a lot of areas.”

White leads West Virginia in both rushing (177-1,185-14) and passing (134-197-1,548-12). Slaton has rushed 210 times for 1,053 yards and 17 TDs.

Reynaud is the top receiver with 59 catches for 691 yards and 11 scores. Schmitt has rushed only 44 times for 208 yards and three TDs.

OU star Sam Bradford is one of the nation’s top passers. The redshirt freshman has completed 216 of 308 passes for 2,879 yards and 34 touchdowns.

He has four outstanding receivers. Juaguin Iglesias leads with 60 catches for 854 yards and four TDs, followed by Malcom Kelly with 49 receptions, 821 yards and nine TDs.

Patrick Allen and DeMarco Murray are the Sooners’ leading rushers with 927 and 764 yards, respectively. They have combined for 21 touchdowns.

Defensively, junior linebacker Reed Williams is WVU’s top tackler with 98. Curtis Lofton has a team-high 142 for OU.

This is only the fourth meeting between the two schools. The Sooners lead the series 2-1, although West Virginia won the last meeting by 41-27 in 1982.

Fact Box

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (73,000)
Time: 8 p.m.
TV: FOX (Matt Vasgersian, Terry Donahue, Pat Haden and Laura Okmin)
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network (Tony Caridi, Dwight Wallace and Hoppy Kercheval)
Series: Oklahoma leads the series, 2-1.
Team Information: West Virginia will wear its white jerseys and use the west bench on game day. Oklahoma will wear its dark jerseys and use the east bench on game day.
Notes: West Virginia and Oklahoma meet for the fourth time in their history. The Mountaineers won the most recent meeting, 41-27, on Sept. 11, 1982, while Oklahoma won 52-10 on Sept. 16, 1978 and 47-14 on Sept. 27, 1958.



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