The Cowboys rolled up 299 total yards of offense in the first half – the Mountaineers were allowing 382.3 yards per game (ranked 58th nationally) entering the game – but they only had 10 points to show for it, and went into their locker room trailing 14-10 at halftime.
The Cowboys are finding out the hard way what happens when the offense can’t finish drives in the end zone.
"It's quite simple. For us on offense in the first half were able to rush the ball, keep them off balance, mixed in the pass, the play action, the run and have some success running the ball, we're a much better team," said OSU head coach Mike Gundy.
"In the third quarter, we weren't able to maintain the run. I thought we lost up front with their front against ours. We became one-dimensional and when we're one-dimensional, we're an average football team."
After falling behind 14-0 just seven minutes into the game – the Mountaineers needed only eight plays to score two touchdowns on their first two possessions, including quarterback Clint Trickett’s 79-yard scoring pass to Mario Alford – the Cowboys battled back throughout the rest of the first half.
But they had to settle for Ben Grogan’s 40-yard field goal early in the second half after driving to the West Virginia 24-yard line. Wide receiver Brandon Sheperd’s 51-yard gain on a reverse (the team's longest rush of the season) set up the Cowboys at the Mountaineer 8. From there, Daxx Garman hit a wide open Teddy Johnson in the flat and he was able to trot untouched into the end zone to end touchdown drought after 111 minutes, 52 seconds of playing time.
OSU had its chance to take a lead after forcing the Mountaineers to punt on their next possession. Garman and the Cowboys then drove from their own 7 to the Mountaineers 11-yard line. But on third-and-8 from the 9, Garman was sacked back to the 19, and Grogan was called on to kick the field goal.
But the 36-yard attempt was wide right and the Cowboys still trailed 14-10.
West Virginia controlled the ball for nearly the entire third quarter, allowing OSU to only run seven plays for 35 yards.
The Cowboys still only trailed 17-10 entering the fourth quarter but struggled to generate any offense when it mattered most. They finished with 436 total yards but never threatened to put the ball in the end zone in the second half.
"Everything offensively, to me, is alarming," Gundy said. "Look at where we're at. We have a quarterback that's inexperienced and we have an offensive line that's young and inexperienced. We're a little beat up at times, and in places we're trying to continue to push forward. We're certainly aware of it."
Garman was 21-of-41 passing for 242 yards but was intercepted twice, including Mountaineer free safety Dravon Henry's game-clinching 52-yard interception return for a touchdown with just under five minutes to play to make the score 27-10.
Tyreek Hill led the rushing attack with 78 yards on 14 carries, while Desmond Roland ran for 37 yards on 12 attempts. James Washington (87 yards) and David Glidden (63 yards) each had five catches.
"Extremely frustrating," said Cowboys offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. "Points and turnovers are where it's at. That's what's going to correlate to victories, so we've got to score more points and continue to secure the ball."
Defensively, the Cowboys were led by free safety Jordan Sterns with a career-high 20 tackles. He became the first OSU player to have 20 or more tackles in a single game since linebacker Dwayne Levels had 20 against Baylor in 2001.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Cowboys, now 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12, as they travel to Manhattan, Kan., to face No. 11 Kansas State next Saturday.