West Virginia's 30-21 win over No.11 Oklahoma State, quite simply, had a bit of everything. And unlike similar Mountaineer Field games against Oklahoma and TCU last year, this time Mountaineers got one. Sure, there were the fumbles, the interceptions – one returned for a score and the one that sealed the biggest win since the victory at Texas. There were punts of 54 and 50 and 13 and 16 yards. There was the blocked point after that was returned for two points by OSU – after the Cowboys jumped offsides, negating the play. Field goals were blocked, they hit the upright, they split the uprights, sometimes on the same possession. WVU's special teams play again resembled a dizzy bat contest in the return game. There were missed plays, missed conversions, missed opportunities that beckoned a Keystone Cops reference.
But there were also diving receptions, swarming defensive efforts, last-second pass break-ups. Both offenses, at times, were breakneck and bottlenecked. The defenses were superb and subpar. There were the 21 – 21! – line-up changes West Virginia made prior to the game. The first, announced Thursday, was the initial WVU start for quarterback Clint Trickett, who routinely kept plays alive with his mobility and was a huge key to the win behind a line that showed better effort, but lacked some execution in a run game that gained just 1.7 yards per carry. With that kind of play, it might well be that this line – whoever it plays – and Trickett are linked, as no other signal caller gives WVU that playmaking style.
Trickett, for sure, wasn't the only change, just likely the most noticed. West Virginia's offensive line, poor and porous versus Maryland, shuffled its deck and slid tackle Quinton Spain inside to guard with Nick Kindler getting the nod on the exterior. Adam Pankey, coming off an injury, was named the back-up to right tackle Curtis Feigt. The line got little run push, but certainly performed better in pass protection – though whether that was because of the escapability by Trickett, along with some designed rollouts, or legitimately higher execution is debatable. What isn't is that the effort level increased tenfold from the sloppy, lackadaisical approach taken against the Terps.
Receivers Daikiel Shorts and Ivan McCartney earned starts over Mario Alford and Kevin White. Overall, the unit responded, particularly Alford, who made a leaping catch on a 40-yard sideline throw pitted placed behind the corner and just in front of a recovering safety. That set-up West Virginia's third touchdown of the game, a one-yard plunge from Sims for a 24-14 lead at the break – the last score for more than a quarter as WVU ground to a halt.
Doug Rigg started at the sam linebacker spot, with Jared Barber at will. Wanting to get more speed on the field, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson went with Dontrill Hyman at end over Kyle Rose, who became the back-up for Shaq Rowell at nose tackle. Like much of what Patterson has implemented, the scheme seemed to work well, as Oklahoma State's explosive offense, which averaged more than 35 points per game entering, was held to just 21.
There was little that was pretty. West Virginia started strong on both sides, then wilted for prolonged times on offense. It took numerous delay of games, a product of the still-developing communication abilities between head coach Dana Holgorsen and Trickett. The rub game never truly became established, and when West Virginia looked like it was going to salt away the final few minutes, it had difficulty with penalties and earning some room for Dreamius Smith and Charles Sims.
Placekicker Josh Lambert, who did tweak his groin in pregame warm-ups, gets credit for ending any threat of an Oklahoma State comeback with his 34-yard field goal to push the advantage to nine with 1:56 left. But he had another kick blocked and originally missed his 45-yarder off an upright. Holgorsen, however, called timeout just before the play clock expired – there's that delay of game again, when WV ran a player on late – and Lambert got another shot, this time drilling the ball right down the middle.
The Mountaineers also struggled with the return game, several times fielding punts that should not have been and allowing fieldable ones to bounce. The solution was to finally replace Ronald Carswell with Jordan Thompson. That eliminated some of the explosiveness, but Carswell has yet to break any kick, and Thompson's surer hands were worth the tradeoff.
The holes and miscues and stumbles were obvious. But so was the desire and beginning of a fix, a change, an ability to right some wrongs and shore up some of the deficiencies. West Virginia isn't great, and it might not even be really good. But it's edging toward that more, and if it can learn to run block with some effectiveness, it might just have a defense that it can lean upon a bit. There's a major challenge upcoming against a Baylor team that averages almost 70 points per game and will come off a bye week. But how that 3-2 record looks a lot better than 2-3. And, if you really asked Mountaineer fans, they'd tell you: a victory over a top 15 team at home is oh-so-much-sweeter than beating a routine foe on a neutral field.
None of this negates the Maryland loss, of course. But it puts another mark on the left side of the ledger and allows this team to move forward with some confidence, and the fan base and players to rally around a bit of a feel-good game. Overall, it's all a positive. This was, to put it mildly, unexpected. It was also wild and, in the end, wonderful. West Virginia got one. Now enjoy, continue to get better, and roll into Baylor and take a shot.