Performance of Mountaineers' Banks draws prime interest


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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ishmael Banks remembers every step and misstep that night.

Ten months later, West Virginia's redshirt junior cornerback is still haunted by a moment of hesitation, a quick stutter-step, an extra yard of cushion on a fourth-down play in November that allowed Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills to cut in front of him at the goal line and catch the winning touchdown with 24 seconds left -- Sooners 50, Mountaineers 49.

"It was kind of a blur," Banks recalled this week. "It happened so fast. Before I knew it, it was touchdown, game over, and I was just sick to my stomach. I felt like I let my family down, my teammates down, the school down, the state down."

Oklahoma's then-senior quarterback Landry Jones torched the Mountaineers secondary for 554 passing yards and six touchdowns, a final spike in futility for the third-worst passing defense in Division I-A in 2012.

Banks willingly shoulders the blame.

"At the end, if I would have made that play, all the other mistakes would have went out the window," Banks said.

"I don't want to forget it. I want to remember how I felt at that instant so I never feel that again, so I never let my team down again. That's what drove me all winter, all spring, all summer -- that one play in that one game."

Now, Banks will have his opportunity for "redemption," a word he repeated again and again this week, when West Virginia (1-0) visits Oklahoma (1-0) for a prime-time showdown Saturday night with the No. 16 Sooners to open the Big 12 season.

"How else would you want it?" Banks asked. "On the road, Oklahoma, big time, big stage. There's nothing else you could ask for. That's what you dream about as a kid, right there."

The Mountaineers allowed 237 passing yards to William & Mary in their season opener Saturday -- better than their season average of 312.0 yards per game last year. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen called the performance a step forward save for three first-half mistakes: two downfield completions to Tre McBride and a third-and-long conversion that set up scores.

"You could say we were good on defense with the exception of three plays, but those three plays gave them 17 points, which is way too many," Holgorsen said.

Mistakes won't be so forgivable this week against the heavily favored Sooners. Oklahoma opened the season with a 34-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe, showcasing a quarterback and an offense far different from what the Mountaineers faced last year. Like West Virginia, the Sooners have traded a pass-filled playbook for a more balanced, run-first scheme.

Instead of Jones, now with the Steelers, the quarterback is redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who rushed for more yards (103) than he passed for (86) and had more rushes (13) than completions (11) in his debut last weekend.

Banks admitted being able to watch only one game film of Knight makes preparation difficult. "You don't know what else they might have up their sleeves."

Despite the underdog label, Banks is looking forward to the challenge.

"You can't be scared," Banks said. "This is my redemption game right here. I get to make everything right again. Redemption."

Next

• Game: West Virginia (1-0) at Oklahoma (1-0).

• Where: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

• Skinny: Oklahoma beat Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0, in Week 1. The Sooners are favored by 21 points against the Mountaineers.

wvusports

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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