The Mountaineers were mediocre in pass protection and poor in punt return, and schisms between the front six and the back end on defense allowed the Sooners 10 explosive plays, three of which that went for scores. But WVU also rushed for 196 yards, which would have been closer to the 250 mark without seven sacks and the fumble return for a score, and despite the numerous mistakes were in the game into the fourth quarter. Alas, the same mistakes that set-up the early OU lead reared the proverbial head again, costing the chance at an upset and surefire national respect.
“I was really happy with our effort and our attitude,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Our guys care. They played hard. We’ve got to play a little bit smarter. We had some things happen in special teams, some penalty things and some decisions in the run game that hurt field position a little bit. I thought we were right there in the game. If we would have caught a couple of those breaks, who knows what the outcome would have been?”
So there are aspects to both focus and build upon as WVU looks to match-up against a second unbeaten team in as many weeks in No. 21 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, 5-0 after a narrow home victory over Kansas State, will play their sixth game in as many weeks to start the season. Like Oklahoma, OSU has the personnel to bring pressure, and actually leads the nation in sacks with 22 for 146 yards, or 4.4 yards in losses per sack.
West Virginia allowed pressure on Skyler Howard against the Sooners, and it ultimately led to OU sealing the game on a Jordan Evans’ 41-yard fumble scoop and score for a 41-24 lead. The Mountaineers shuffled the line, at one point playing Kyle Bosch and Tony Matteo at the guards and sliding Adam Pankey to tackle. The change seemed designed to better the protection, but Holgorsen offered a different take.
“I feel good about playing Tony Matteo as the sixth guy. We’ve got our starting lineup with Pankey, Bosch, (center Tyler) Orlosky, Marquis (Lucas at tackle) and Yodny, but we’re just trying to prevent specific guys from averaging 90 plays a game,” Holgorsen said. “By having a sixth guy that we like – I wish we had a seventh and an eighth that we trusted, as well – we can move those guys around. Pankey can move out and play tackle, as well. He’s our next best option at tackle. We’ve been planning on doing that and just decided to go ahead and do it last week.
“Their front was darn good, and I knew their front was going to be good. We did OK in the run game, but the pass game’s got to get a little better up front. We gave up seven sacks. Two of them were on Skyler with some run/pass stuff, but we had too many negative plays. That’s got to improve.”
West Virginia was often behind the chains in its early drives, and that was compounded by horrible field position that averaged the 15-yard line in the first half, and the 10-yard line if the touchbacks on kickoffs are discounted. That forced longer throws on third down, and ultimately led to 20-plus third down plays for the Mountaineers, who finished with 173 yards passing and three interceptions by Howard. Oklahoma allowed 427 yards passing to Tulsa the previous week.
“We’ve big-played people before in the pass game,” Holgorsen said. “I didn’t forget how to do it. We’re going to continue to work on it, but everything starts up front. We have to do a good job of protecting, the quarterback has to make good decisions and we’ve got to get open against man coverage to make plays down the field. We just have to continue to improve in the pass game. If it takes running the ball 90 percent of the time to win, then that’s what I’m going to do. But I know we’re going to have to throw the ball better. I haven’t lost sight of that.”
Holgorsen also noted that West Virginia “stopped the run pretty good, but when you give up 10 explosive plays in the passing game, those are going to result in points.” Oklahoma’s passing scores went for 17, 28, 71 and 44 yards. The Sooners averaged 22 yards per completion with an offense similar to what Oklahoma State runs. WVU announced Monday that the game, which will kickoff at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, was sold out.
“It’s (going to be) extremely festive,” Holgorsen said. “There’s nothing quite like night games in Morgantown, West Virginia.”