NORMAN, Okla. - West Virginia and Oklahoma seemed to battle things out for most of Saturday night in an attempt to see which team might be able to give the game away before the other.
West Virginia won that battle, but of course lost the war.
In a game that featured eight turnovers in just the first three quarters, Oklahoma took advantage of West Virginia's makes far more than the Mountaineers took advantage of the Sooners' missteps.
The result was a 16-7 win for Oklahoma in front of a crowd of 84,692, the 88th consecutive sellout at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Afterward, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was understandably disappointed with the loss. But after playing a three-touchdown favorite essentially down to the fourth quarter and then some was at least a bit encouraging.
"I'm excited about this football team,'' Holgorsen said after a draining game played in heat that at kickoff was 95 degrees. "Obviously I'm not happy about losing the game, but I saw some things that were encouraging.''
Many, but not all, of West Virginia's mistakes were of the special teams variety, ironic in that the day began with special teams coordinator Joe DeForest under the microscope for his alleged involvement in a brewing scandal at Oklahoma State (see related story, Page 6D). It was WVU's punt return team that twice kept Oklahoma drives alive with a roughing penalty and a fumble, leading to the first 10 Sooner points.
Just as significant, though, were the other three turnovers - besides the punt muff - that WVU committed. All three came with the Mountaineers in OU territory, including a fumble by receiver Kevin White after a catch and run that would have given the Mountaineers a first down inside the 20, down just 13-7.
Holgorsen said he wasn't trying to make excuses, but pointed out the relative inexperience of the players who played key roles in this game.
"Those two [special teams mistakes] are the ones everybody is going to see,'' Holgorsen said. "But remember, about 40 percent of the traveling squad we had here had never played in a Big 12 football game. Combine that with the fact that it's Oklahoma. This is a tough place to play.''
Quarterback Paul Millard, who played from start to finish, also fumbled while trying to throw with the ball at the Oklahoma 36. And he threw a third-quarter interception with the ball just over midfield.
Afterward, he shouldered much of the blame.
"We didn't make plays,'' he said. "They did exactly what we expected them to do [on defense]. We just didn't make plays.''
Oklahoma, too, had its horrid turnovers, including third-quarter interceptions by Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph deep in WVU territory. Joseph's came on a throw by redshirt freshman Trevor Knight on first-and-goal at the 5, Joseph's on a tipped pass with the ball at the WVU 27. In the second quarter, Knight also fumbled the ball away when he was hit by Brandon Golson with the ball at the West Virginia 25.
Millard, who seemed ready to be replaced by Clint Trickett early in the fourth quarter but never was, finished his night 21 of 40 for 218 yards and an interception.
Holgorsen said he thought about using Trickett more than once. In fact, he thought about it a lot. He didn't because between last week's opening win and this week West Virginia had to make some fairly significant tweaks in the offense. Trickett, the transfer from Florida State, is still trying to master just the basics.
"We'll evaluate [the quarterbacks] again this week,'' Holgorsen said. "It might be open competition.''
Knight, who gave way to Blake Bell in the fourth quarter, completed 10 of 20 passes for 119 yards and ran for 49 more.