From the start, the Mountaineers offense struggled to find any semblance of rhythm. With Oklahoma State taking an early 14-0 lead, it looked as if the Mountaineers might be in for yet another long afternoon.
The offense played pretty well, forcing Oklahoma State into a shoot out in the second half before the special teams and defense collapsed under the pressure, letting the Cowboys pull away late. Just like the TCU game, the Mountaineers showed improvements in some phases of the game, but brought up even more questions in other phases of the game.
The WVU offense finally found some bit of rhythm on their third drive of the afternoon before stalling out on third down at Oklahoma State’s 37 yard line. Geno Smith was sacked, loosing his helmet meaning he would be ineligible to play on fourth down. So the obvious choice is to throw for it on 4th and 13 with your back-up quarterback?
Coach Holgorsen put his faith in Paul Millard who made the greatest play of his life. Facing a fourth down and 13 yards to go, just inside Oklahoma State’s end of the field, Millard hung in the pocket for what seems like ages to find Stedman Bailey for a 37 yard touchdown.
That play should have been a huge momentum builder for the Mountaineers, but the special teams did not get the message. On the ensuing kickoff, the Mountaineers special teams let Oklahoma State returner Justin Gilbert take the kick 96 yards for a touchdown, putting WVU in a 21-7 hole early.
Even with Oklahoma State’s kickoff return touchdown, the Mountaineers offense kept their heads about them and finally resurrected their early season rhythm.
The offense, for the most part, was in a great rhythm. They moved the ball effectively down the field against the Cowboys defense. One major reason for the Mountaineers renewed success was the re-emergence of top receiving target Stedman Bailey. The NCAA leader in receiving touchdowns has been mostly an after thought in the Mountaineers offense during the three game loosing streak. He has been battling a nagging ankle injury and got some playing time last week against TCU.
Today, Bailey appears to be back to 100%. Bailey reeled in 14 passes for 225 yards and 1 touchdown. Stedman gave Geno Smith a reliable option all afternoon and paired with Tavon Austin to give WVU an explosive one-two punch on the outside. Austin lit up the Cowboys secondary for 125 total yards on 20 touches for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers passing game even got contributions from their back-up receivers J.D. Woods, Ryan Nehlen, and Connor Arlia. The three helped the Mountaineers keep drives going with critical third down receptions and providing check down options for Geno to avoid the blitz.
Of course, the offense would have gone nowhere without the arm and composure of Geno Smith. Without much protection from the offensive line, Geno made incredible throws under duress. Smith also used his legs in multiple situations to keep the drives alive. In all, Geno finished play with 364 yards passing for 2 touchdowns and added another touchdown on the ground.
Defensively, the Mountaineers struggled to cover the pass once again. Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf benefited from some poor Mountaineer pass coverage schemes, especially early on in the game. Coach Joe DeForest tightened up the coverage schemes in the second half and the Mountaineers defense looked much stronger. After surrendering two quick touchdowns in the first quarter, the Mountaineers defense held Oklahoma State offense in check well into the fourth quarter. After the Mountaineer special teams blunders, the defense seemed to fall victim to the momentum swings and crumbled late. Clint Chelf had a solid performance against the WVU secondary, racking up 292 yards passing for 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Against the run, West Virginia performed well against the dynamic rusher Joseph Randle. WVU managed to keep Randle contained for the most part, holding the star back to just 83 total yards. Much of the credit belongs to the defensive linemen Jorge Wright, Shaq Rowell, and Will Clarke for fighting off their blocks to create havoc in the backfield.
The real havoc that everyone will remember this game for came in the special teams play.
Once again, the Mountaineers special teams were the achilles heel. West Virginia surrendered two turnovers on muffed kick and punt returns, leading to Cowboy touchdowns. The kickoff coverage team also gave up the a fore mentioned touchdown, giving Oklahoma State 21 points off of blown plays. Their in lies the difference in today’s ball game.
West Virginia will not be able to break out of their current funk without proficiency in all three phases of the game. The offense has come back to play. The defense has shown flashes of consistency and has made some terrific plays, but has also been susceptible to giving up the big play. The special teams as a whole have been in a downward spiral the past four games and have cost the Mountaineers dearly the past two games.
The Mountaineers will once again try to become bowl eligible against #12 Oklahoma at Milan Puskar Stadium next Saturday.