You cannot ask for a closer game than was played in Morgantown tonight. The WVU offense came alive with the newly configured backfield, putting the heat on #12 Oklahoma. Tavon Austin had the signature performance of his career, setting two different WVU single game records. But, unfortunately, Austin’s performance would go to waste as the Mountaineers once again failed to get critical defensive stops and it cost them dearly.
In the first half, the Mountaineers offense could not consistently maintain rhythm. One drive, they are red hot, moving the ball down the field well. The next drive, Geno can’t find a wide open receiver or the running game can’t escape the backfield. It is not abnormal for any offense to have good and bad drives, but when you play with a defense like West Virginia has, you have to score on almost every single drive to have a shot at winning the game.
In the first half, Coach Holgorsen followed up his talk of getting Tavon Austin the ball more, by lining the star player up in the backfield. Austin, who started his WVU career as a running back, looked like he has not missed a beat since his freshman season, able to find creases in the Sooner front and really was a major factor in West Virginia’s early drives. Holgorsen would feed Austin 10 carries in the first half for 75 yards rushing.
Austin’s rushing, paired with Stedman Bailey’s receiving, gave WVU a potent balance offensively, keeping the Mountaineers alive in the first half.
The biggest issue for the Mountaineers was ball security. Geno Smith once again tried to force the ball down the field to Bailey, throwing a pair of interceptions in the first half. The turnovers kept the Mountaineers defense on the field much longer than they should have been, leading to the Sooners lighting up the scoreboard for a 31-17 halftime lead.
The Mountaineers would come out firing offensively in the second half behind an electrifying 74-yard touchdown run by Austin. With that kind of momentum boost, you would expect the Mountaineers defense to play with a little extra edge and get a stop. But no, this is the Mountaineers defense that just cannot cover the pass. Landry Jones took the Sooners right back down the field on an 80-yard touchdown drive.
The Mountaineers defense suffered from a split personality disorder tonight. Against the run, the defense locked down D.D. Williams with the exceptions of one big touchdown run in the first half. As good as they were against the run, the Mountaineers were equally poor at defending the pass. The secondary could not cover Kenny Stills in the redzone and failed to make open field tackles on short screen passes to the rest of the Sooners receivers.
Outside of a forced fumble early in the first half, the WVU defense played a pretty poor first half of football. They got no pressure on Landry Jones, giving him plenty of time to pick apart the secondary. Jones tuned up the defense to the tune of 38/51 passing for 554 yards and 6 touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if a performance like this helps him land a spot in the late first round of the NFL draft in April.
Then, out of nowhere, the Mountaineers defense came alive in the second half. After giving up a touchdown on their first series of the second half, the defense got a little bit of pressure on Jones, finally forcing an interception early in the fourth quarter, keeping the Mountaineers within one score at 38-30.
With the defense tightening up their game, the Mountaineers went run heavy in the second half to keep the defense off the field as much as possible and give them a chance to keep their confidence up. Coach Holgorsen relied on the legs of Andrew Buie and Tavon Austin to convert some critical third and fourth downs to keep WVU in the game late.
Tavon Austin was the all-purpose spark plug for the Mountaineers. He racked up a grand total of 572 yards, shattering the WVU single game record for all-purpose yards. That record was set in 1965 by Garrett Ford Sr. against Pitt at 356 yards. The way Austin was able to make the Sooners defense grasp at thin air, I would have expected Holgorsen to go to Austin more often throughout the game.
Austin finished his monumental evening with 344 yards rushing, 82 receiving, 146 yards returning, and 2 touchdowns. Tavon’s 344 yards on the ground set a single game rushing record last held by Kay Jay Harris with 337 yards against ECU in 2004. That’s right, a WIDE RECEIVER set a WVU single game rushing record. R-I-D-I-C-U-L-O-U-S!
Austin wasn’t the only Mountaineer to flex his all-purpose skills tonight. Fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey took a couple rushes himself, cashing one in for a touchdown run to close the gap to 38-36 midway through the fourth quarter. Bailey would finish with 205 yards receiving, 0 yards rushing, and 4 touchdowns. Bailey also added 2 tackles on special teams. Even Geno got in on the act, running the ball 4 times for 52 yards.
After fighting off some early struggles, Geno finally started clicking with his offense in the second half, looking like the quarterback that was receiving Heisman hype early in the season. Geno led the Mountaineers to a pair of great touchdown drives to give the Mountaineers a late 49-44 lead. Geno finished the game with 20/35 passing for 320 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, their defense was on the field late with only 49 yards between them and the endzone. Landry Jones found Kenny Stills in the endzone on 4th and 3 to give the Sooners a 1 point victory in Morgantown.
The young Mountaineers secondary just had no answer for the skillful and experienced Sooners receiving corps. Coach DeForest left the cornerbacks on an island too often, leaving them to face Stills in man coverage near the goal line. Probably why Stills hauled in 4 touchdowns.
Heartbreaking loss for West Virginia. The loss moves the losing streak to 5 games, the longest losing streak since 1986. WVU will have to regroup and pursue their bowl eligibility on the road in Ames, IA next Saturday.