The chances were myriad. So were the miscues. To state West Virginia committed multiple unforced errors would be to underestimate the landslide of foibles, each piling atop another to create a mountain for the ‘Eers – eventually leading to sheer aggravation and thoughts of what if… and what else and what now?
The topper was obvious: late in the game, the biggest, most significant call of the contest, and West Virginia is ill-prepared, can’t get out of the huddle in a timely fashion and, in an inexplicable turn of events, tries to call a timeout when it doesn’t have any. Quarterback Paul Millard standing there, allowing the final couple seconds of the play clock to run down and, in a futile motion reminiscent of Michigan’s Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA basketball championship, signaling for something West Virginia didn’t have.
Millard was to blame, sure. But so was a coaching staff that burnt all three second half timouts in the first 11 minutes of play, then fiddled around with the play call. But that was just the topper. All the miscues? How much time do you have?
It started early, Daryl Worley roughing OU punter Jed Barnett on fourth and four from Oklahoma’s 28-yard line one series after Dreamius Smith’s 75-yard rush put WVU ahead 7-0. The gaffe handed OU a first down that eventually led to Michael Honeycutt’s 44-yard field goal. Two possessions later – after another offensive three-and-out by the Mountaineers, West Virginia was able to overcome losing contain and allowing a 14-yard run on second and 15 when nose tackle Shaq Rowell beat a double team and stuffed power back Brennan Clay on third and one. But WVU’s special teams fundamentals again deserted it when Mario Alford, seeing his first significant action of the season after sitting out the opener, muffed the punt.
Oklahoma recovered at the Mountaineer 32 and eventually scored on QB Trevor Knight’s second and goal rollout pass to Trey Millard. Oklahoma, 10-7 – and the Sooners had earned none of it. West Virginia’s offense got into the act on the next drive, tackle Curtis Feigt false starting on a third and two from the OU 42-yard line. That served the Sooners twofold. It took West Virginia out of its ability to run, which was the likely call on third and two but becomes a near impossibility on third and seven. And, instead of having to respect the rush, Oklahoma pressured with six, and forced Paul Millard into a fumble.
Boom. Sooners ball. No ability to utilize a primary weapon in punter Nick O’Toole. Field position, gone. Momentum, again obliterated. WVU did manage to thwart the following drive when linebacker Brandon Golson came off the right side and nailed Knight, forcing a fumble that, instead of picking up and running, the junior allowed to sit on the ground. Will Clarke recovered, but by then, the opportunity for advancement was gone, another chance squandered. This team, quite simply, isn’t good enough to overcome those type of mental miscues. And yet, despite the offensive ineptitude, untimely penalties and special teams blunders, WVU trailed just 13-7 at the half. The Mountaineers had dodged the current issues. But they hadn’t yet eluded the building possibility: onset of fatigue.
Oklahoma ran 44 first half plays. West Virginia? Just 25. In fairness, many other stats were to the Mountaineers’ advantage. Average gain per play (7.2 to 5.8 yds) and average yards per rush (9.4 to 5.2 yds) being the most significant. Clearly the biggest issue at the half was the sheer play numbers. And even that edge never materialized initially in the latter half. Both teams swapped punts to start the third quarter – holding possession less than one minute each – and WVU seemed in good shape until Oklahoma’s second series, when fatigue began to take its toll as the Sooners ripped off consecutive large gains – and added a late-hit penalty – to set up first and goal. Somehow, though, that too was halted, this time by Darwin Cook’s interception in the end zone which West Virginia to hang in with 11:22 left in the quarter.
The offense, one assumed then, must begin to make plays and give the defense a break. It did, Millard finding Ivan McCartney for 11 yards on first down from the 20. Back Charles Sims then punched ahead for four yards before Millard drilled a pass across the middle to Kevin White for another first down. WVU followed that by crossing into Sooner territory via the quick toss stretch play to Alford. The Mountaineers were getting lathered up, getting going. And then another disaster.
Using play action, Millard tried to draw in the Oklahoma defense on a second and two, and fired across the middle – directly to Gabe Lynn for the first Mountaineer interception of the season. Drive over. The junior quarterback never saw the ‘backer, and Oklahoma had the ball … again … in excellent field position at their own 43-yard line. The Sooners body punched WVU on the ground, then, much like the Mountaineers, went to the air for seemingly no reason. Result? Pick number two in as many drives for Knight, this by safety Karl Joseph – again near the goal line.
Surely something must give; even down just 13-7, the Mountaineers must begin moving the ball to have any chance over the final 22 minutes. West Virginia did, though, if most fans were honest, they felt stomach rumblings when, on third and nine, Millard threw across his body, across the field…and completed it to McCartney for a first down. Now, with that nauseous feeling subsiding, WVU didn’t go more conservative, but instead put the ball in Millard’s hands. The Texas native threw deep, and WVU drew a pass interference call. A play later, he hit Ronald Carswell on a 12-yard out. Sims then peppered the middle of the OU line before Millard challenged vertically, once to K.J. Myers and once to a temporarily wide-open McCartney on a double move, broken up at the last moment by the OU safety.
Alas, once again, the drive was stopped via a penalty, this time a hold on center Tyler Orlosky, and Kevin White’s totally unforced fumble on a third and 20 in which has was sliding for a huge first down. Lynn recovered and a score of any kind was snuffed. Worse, following a pattern in many other games, WVU used its second timeout of the half when it failed to get out of the huddle in time, and had to burn its last one on the change of possession because of a defensive issue. With 4:32 left in the third quarter, the Mountaineers were out of timeouts. Errors. All unforced errors. Want another one? Alford made a mistake on the ensuing Sooner punt after the West Virginia defense forced another three-and-out by fielding the ball at the five-yard line for horrid field position.
West Virginia again failed to amount any decent drive going into the fourth quarter, and it eventually got so bad for both offenses that Oklahoma went back to reserve quarterback Blake Bell. The bulldozer helped in salting the game away – with an assist from a wilting WVU defense unaided by either of the other two sides of the ball and the comedy of errors that was the Mountaineers timeout usage, especially the last one. There might be much to build upon from this game, but the foundation and fundamentals are going to have to be much improved.