NORMAN, Okla. – The West Virginia Mountaineers hit the road headed for Oklahoma this week for their first away game and Big 12 conference battle of the season.
In a back and forth penalty-driven affair, Bob Stoops and the No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners defeated Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers 44-24.
Holgorsen opened his post-game press conference by congratulating Stoops and the Oklahoma coaching staff. He followed up by praising his team for being in the game heading into the fourth quarter for the fourth time in a row.
“Going into the fourth quarter at 27-24 we were right there in the game. Didn’t think we played very good in the first half. That’s on me. I’m the one calling the plays, just didn’t do a very good job in the fourth quarter calling plays the way that we need to in order to beat these guys so this one falls on me.”
The Mountaineer offense struggled for a majority of the game. Quarterback Skyler Howard suffered his worst game to date, going 17-32 for 173 yards, a single touchdown, and three interceptions. He was also sacked seven times.
“Some of that stuff is on me,” Holgorsen said, regarding Howard’s play. “I tell ya right now, I’ve coached against these guys for a long time, if you start forcing things down field, it’s not gonna turn out good for ya. There’s a reason why we’ve had a specific game plan against these guys for a while and I probably lost sight of that in the fourth quarter.”
Howard did however have one of the best plays of the game in the third quarter on a QB keeper, rushing for a 50-yard touchdown that shifted momentum in the Mountaineers favor.
West Virginia’s run game carried most of the offensive weight. Three rushers, including Skyler Howard, gained a combined 170 yards and scored two of the Mountaineers three total touchdowns.
Wendell Smallwood averaged close to five yards per carry while picking up 111 yards on 22 attempts. Rushel Shell found the endzone once on 20 attempts for 72 yards.
The receiving corps collected 173 yards split between six receivers. Freshman Jovon Durante led the way with four catches for 44 yards, including a magnificent endzone grab in the third quarter that once again shifted momentum in the Mountaineers favor.
The Oklahoma defense proved too much for Holgorsen’s squad to handle. Offensively, West Virginia struggled to advance the ball on third down, only converting on 8 of 20 third-down tries. The Sooners also forced five turnovers, three by interception and two by fumble.
13 of the Oklahoma’s points were scored off West Virginia turnovers.
Coincidently, both teams struggled from a penalty standpoint. West Virginia committed 11 for a total of 111 yards. Oklahoma committed 12 for 134 yards.
The Mountaineer defense allowed the Sooners to collect over 400 total yards on the day, 320 of which came through the air. Junior quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for those 320 yards while completing 14 of 25 passes for three touchdowns and one interception.
“We knew it was gonna be a four-quarter game,” said Holgorsen. “I commend our players for getting out there in the second half and playing. We had a great third quarter. It comes down to their defense was better than me. I’m the one calling the plays and I just didn’t do a very good job in the fourth quarter.”
Karl Joseph once again headed Tony Gibson’s usually stout defense. The senior safety had multiple memorable hits in the Mountaineer loss while collecting five tackles and grabbing his nation-leading fifth interception of the season.
Positively, just four games in, the Mountaineer defense has now forced 13 total turnovers, one shy of their season total from 2014-15.
Nick Kwiatkoski led the tackle column with 11 followed by KJ Dillon with seven and Jared Barber with six.
West Virginia’s special teams had more than one miscue including miscommunication issues on kick returns. Nick O’Toole punted seven total times while Josh Lambert only attempted one field goal, which he made from 23 yards out in the third quarter.
“It was bad,” Holgorsen said, regarding the Mountaineers lack of ability to reach good field position in the first half. “A lot of that was special teams. Probably, pretty much all of it was special teams. Regardless of where we start, we need to work those areas of the field and do a better job. We didn’t win the kicking game in the first half. With that said, we didn’t win on offense, either.”
The Mountaineers will head into their next game against Oklahoma St. with a 3-1 record (0-1 in Big 12). The Cowboys will visit Morgantown on Saturday, Oct. 10.
Cover Photo credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com