Blair Kerkhoff

For Big 12 favorite, look to the team that plays defense

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen waits to take the field before agame against Kansas State on Oct. 1, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen waits to take the field before agame against Kansas State on Oct. 1, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. AP

Oklahoma outlasted Texas Tech 66-59 in the zaniest, Big 12-iest game in years and produced a clear choice for conference supremacy over the season’s second half.

West Virginia.

Oh, the Sooners will and should promote their accomplishments in Lubbock, Texas. The Big 12 asks each school to submit nominees for offensive player of the week, and the fact that wide receiver Dede Westbrook won’t get a sniff after catching nine passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns is a testament to the crazy production.

Joe Mixon had “a game for the ages,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said of the running back who rushed for 263 yards and added 114 receiving yards, accounting for five touchdowns.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 545 yards and seven touchdowns, and his total was 189 less than Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. His 734 passing yards tied an NCAA record.

The teams combined for an NCAA record 1,708 yards, with each logging 854.

Eight-five-four.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops didn’t hide his displeasure.

“Everything we did, they had guys running free pretty much all night,” he said. “We thought we were making improvements. To fall on our face like this, we’ve got to re-evaluate some things we’re doing.”

Not re-evaluating how it plays defense is West Virginia. A week earlier on the same Texas Tech turf, the Mountaineers prevailed 48-17, holding the Red Raiders to 379 yards. They harassed Mahomes (to be fair, he was nursing a sore shoulder) and emphatically stopped Tech’s streak of scoring at least 50 points in nine straight home games.

Against the Big 12 preseason favorite Sooners, Tech picked up where it left off before facing the Mountaineers, who beat TCU 34-10 on Saturday and continue to insist that defense doesn’t have to be an afterthought in the Big 12.

That was clearly the case in the second half of OU-Texas Tech. The Red Raiders went three and out on their first possession in the third quarter and after that, every drive for both teams ended in a touchdown until Oklahoma took a knee at the end.

Turned out, that punt made the difference, because after that opening possession the Red Raiders never got the ball when they didn’t trail by double digits.

The Big 12’s reputation as a field-spreading, uptempo conference started when Mike Leach arrived at Tech in 2000, and the conference has put up some crazy numbers. Who can forget West Virginia’s 70-63 victory over Baylor in the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 game?

But it’s why the Big 12 can’t have nice things like a national championship anymore. The Vince Young-led Texas title for the 2005 season was the league’s last crown, with the 2008 Sooners and 2009 Longhorns falling short in championship games.

Since then, nothing. Teams that win national championships play defense in a way most Big 12 teams don’t. But one has found a semblance of defense, at least lately. After a shaky start, West Virginia has settled down and now looks like the team to beat. The Mountaineers can score, but the ability to prevent teams from turning the scoreboard into a video game is why they should be favored to win their first Big 12 title.

Plus the schedule. The league’s two other ranked teams this week, Oklahoma and Baylor, are scheduled to visit Morgantown.

Trips to Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State remain. But if the Mountaineers run the table, it will not have happened in one-trick pony fashion and they should be given every consideration by the College Football Playoff Committee.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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