WVU botches key plays

The Saturday night game between West Virginia and Oklahoma began in a blizzard.

The snow soon stopped. But the avalanche was just beginning.

If one were to pen a worst case scenario for how the battle with the Sooners was to play out, the Mountaineers achieved the vision and then went a few better. In the biggest game of the year on national television the first half performance by West Virginia became a fiasco.

It began with a botched punt return in the driving snow leading to a quick Oklahoma score. Matters quickly declined from there, on the next Sooner possession a missed tackle on a flat pass resulted in a 75-yard touchdown run. Then when the Mountaineers began to find a way to move the football they turned it over inside the Oklahoma 5-yard line. To prove that wasn’t a fluke, WVU again drove the length of the field only to hand the ball over again near the goal line on a botched snap.

In between, Oklahoma shredded the Mountaineer defense with a relentless running game, as outstanding backs Samaje Perrine and Joe Mixon combined for 307 yards on 55 carries. When the Sooners had poor field position the Mountaineers helped take care of the problem with convenient personal foul penalties, on one occasion getting flagged back to back for a total of 30 yards. When the avalanche finally abated the Sooners had built an insurmountable 34-0 lead.

To its credit West Virginia kept battling in the second half and scored on three consecutive possessions to close to within 41-28 with 10 minutes still remaining to be played, giving the cold wind blown fans that remained a sliver of hope. But the Sooners, who to that point in the second half were playing to simply get the game over, regained their focus and went the length of the field on a six minute scoring drive to seal the win.

After an injury to Kennedy McKoy on the first play and with Rushel Shell unable to go, the Mountaineers were just about out of running backs. But Justin Crawford took advantage of his opportunity and slashed the Oklahoma defense for a remarkable 331 yards. One wonders if in college football history a team ever had a 300-yard rusher and lost by four touchdowns.

There is no shame in losing to a good Oklahoma team, but the complete meltdown in execution, mental mistakes, and lack of discipline were a major disappointment.

THIS SATURDAY: West Virginia takes its 8-2 record on the road to play 3-8 Iowa State. A first glance would tell us on paper this should be a Mountaineer victory, but if we look at the intangibles there are concerns.

The Cyclones were good enough to build sizeable second half leads against Baylor and a good Oklahoma State team on the road but let both of them get away. But now they have won two in a row, including a 66-10 thrashing of Texas Tech on Saturday. WVU will see a team that is improving, confident and hungry, playing its last game of the season in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have become a turnover machine with their confidence shaken. Upset alert.