Mistakes doom Mountaineers
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.
The real damage was done by Oklahoma's running game. Brennan Clay had 170 yards on 22 carries and Damien Williams added 95 yards on 21 carries. The Sooners had 323 rushing yards and 442 overall.
Still, almost everyone was pleased with the performance of WVU's defense, which gave up just one touchdown and three field goals, despite being on the field for 34:26, compared to 25:34 for Oklahoma's defense.
"I was pleased with how our defense played,'' Holgorsen said. "We got turnovers and we got some of them late in drives. We didn't give up.''
West Virginia gained 387 yards, 218 passing and 169 on the ground.
Almost all the scoring was done in the first half, when OU had a 13-7 lead. The third quarter, because of four turnovers, was scoreless and Oklahoma used an early-fourth-quarter field goal to extend the margin to 16-7. The Sooners had a chance to add a field goal but missed one with a minute to play.
West Virginia had a chance to add a meaningless score at the end when the Mountaineers drove to the Oklahoma 3 and had an untimed down after a roughing the passer penalty. But WVU couldn't score.
Oklahoma outgained West Virginia 228-176 in the half. Each team lost two fumbles and the Mountaineers also had a turnover of sorts when they ran into the OU punter and gave the Sooners the ball back.
West Virginia struck first on one of the rare possessions that did not include some bizarre event. The Mountaineers took over at their own 15 for their second possession and on the third play junior college transfer running back Dreamius Smith broke loose. The 5-foot-11, 217-pounder took a straight handoff into the line, bounced around in the middle of the field and then headed outside. He was able to turn the corner and outran everyone for a 75-yard touchdown and a 7-0 West Virginia lead.
Smith only had two other carries.
That's when things began falling apart for West Virginia thanks to its special teams. First, freshman Daryl Worley ran into Oklahoma punter Jed Barnett after the Mountaineer defense had forced the punt. That led to a 44-yard Mike Hunnicutt field goal that narrowed the gap to 7-3.
The next time Oklahoma got the ball, the Mountaineers again forced a punt, this time a three-and-out. But Mario Alford muffed the punt and OU had the ball back at the West Virginia 32. Three plays later Oklahoma appeared to score on a 16-yard run by Damien Williams, but a review put the ball short of the goal. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight passed a yard to fullback Trey Millard two plays later for the score and a 10-7 Sooner lead.
After that, the teams started trading turnovers. West Virginia lost the ball when Paul Millard was hit as he was in the pocket and fumbled, his second sack and fumble of the season. But Oklahoma couldn't take advantage because after Lacoltan Bester gained 32 yards on a pass reception, he was stripped of the ball by Isaiah Brice and it was recovered by Darwin Cook.
Oklahoma would later lose the ball after driving to the WVU 25 when linebacker Brandon Golson drilled Knight and caused a fumble that was recovered by Will Clarke.
The Sooners added their final points of the half in the closing seconds after failing to finish a long drive. Hunnicutt capped a 13-play, 83-yard drive with a 22-yard field goal and a 13-7 Oklahoma lead.
Knight completed 9 of 16 passes for 113 yards in the half.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.