MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: WVU’s missed chances
For the average college football fan it may have been the most entertaining game of the year. Two of the best quarterbacks in America. Points galore. Excitement to the finish.
But for Mountaineer fans it was a roller coaster of emotions, from euphoria to dread and back and forth again several times. And as we have become far too accustomed, the roller coaster crashed at the bottom. It was a fun ride for some, but not so much for us.
If you are reading this column you most likely watched the game, and to review all the ebbs and flows and the stats would take more space than we have here. So let’s instead focus on some of the decisions that are made that go a long a way to determine the outcome of wild games such as this.
NO FIELD GOAL: In the second quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with a fourth and goal from the six yard line in a tie game. Instead of taking the easy field goal, Coach Holgorsen elected to go for the touchdown. The attempt failed. Now one can see the argument for trying to score the TD. Our defense wasn’t able to stop Oklahoma and points were at a premium. But there are risks and rewards here. The seven points from being successful would have been huge, but the three that were left on the table weren’t all that small either.
THE TIMEOUT: West Virginia had just come from 14 points behind to take a 42-38 lead late in the third quarter. The defense had stopped Oklahoma on two plays and they were faced with a 3rd and 10. Momentum had turned. The crowd was in a frenzy. The Sooner offense was a bit on its heels for the first time all day. And then defensive coordinator Tony Gibson thought he saw something and called timeout. Momentum was stalled. The Sooners were able to regroup and scored in two plays.
THE PENALTY: Kennedy McCoy had a run of 72 yards to inside the Oklahoma five, from where WVU could have retaken the lead. But wide receiver TJ Simmons was called for a personal foul when he blocked a defender well out of bounds. It essentially became a 50-yard field position penalty. Two plays later, the Sooners forced a Will Grier fumble on a sack and returned it for a TD. Instead of being up 4 the Mountaineers found themselves down 10.
We heard later on the radio Simmons had been warned about something that had happened during earlier play. I’ve heard the comments that he was just being aggressive like his coaches had told him to be, but I don’t think coaches tell you to block a player five yards out of bounds.
A lot of Mountaineer fans thought it was bad call, and maybe it was. But when you already know you are a marked man that wasn’t the time to push the envelope.
THE ONSIDE KICK: After coming back to within the final margin of 59-56, the Mountaineers had two timeouts and four minutes remaining. Instead of kicking it deep and playing defense WVU attempted an onside kick, which failed. One can see the thinking here. We hadn’t stopped Oklahoma all day so we had to get the ball back. But to win the game the defense would still have had to make one stop somewhere. And in fact they did force Oklahoma to 4th down. Had they been on their own 30, they Sooners would obviously have had to punt, but instead on the WVU 40 they went for the first down to seal the win. Which brings us to…..
LET’S PLAY SAFE: Stop one play and the Mountaineers would have the ball and an opportunity for one last possession to win the game. The best chance was to bring the house and try to create some havoc, but instead West Virginia rushed three and dropped eight, allowing a Heisman Trophy candidate to stand there for several seconds until he found a receiver for the first down. Frankly had we blitzed it probably would have been a touchdown, but I would have rather gone down fighting.
I’m not saying all of these decisions were wrong. Reasonable minds can disagree, and maybe the outcome would have been the same. You can draw your own conclusions.
WVU is not a program that is going to be in a position to contend every season. But this year we had one of those special opportunities, with a quarterback who likely will be in the room when the Heisman Trophy is awarded, along with some great receivers. The Mountaineers gained 704 yards and put up 56 points against a Top Ten team. And lost.
Getting to the Big 12 Championship Game was a reasonable goal and needing just one more win and leading by 17 at the half nine days ago in Stillwater the Mountaineers had it in sight.
And then over the next six quarters they surrendered 90 points, allowed their opponents to cross midfield on every possession, and forced only one punt. Most seasons 8-3 would be a good year. But in 2018 it became a rare opportunity lost.