West Virginia Mistakes, Miscues Doom Unbeaten Season

STILLWATER, Okla. - West Virginia couldn't survive a series of miscues and mistakes, falling 37-20 at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

The entire crux of the contest could be surmised in just two primary points. First, WVU committed a pair of costly turnovers which OSU turned into 14 points. And second, the Mountaineer defense was unable to cover the Cowboy wideouts in one-on-one, especially on slant routes, and that the home team took advantage to secure what some would term an upset. The rest is little more than window dressing.

The loss ended the unbeaten season for West Virginia (6-1, 3-1 Big 12), and snapped a streak in which WVU had won 11 of its last 12. The victory was a marquee one for an Oklahoma State team which likely deserved to be ranked before this week, and one that advances to 6-2, 4-1 in the Big 12 to jump the Mountaineers in the process. Other thoughts, observations and analysis follows.

  • West Virginia converted a key third and 11 on its initial series when Skyler Howard scrambled to buy time before finding Daikiel Shorts across the middle for 13 yards. That kept the drive going early, began to flip field position and eventually resulted in Mike Molina's 36-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead after the 11-play, 56-yard drive.
  • Oklahoma State quickly answered with a field goal to tie at 3-3, then forced a punt after consecutive 15-yard penalties were called on the Mountaineers. OSU declined the second one to set-up a third and 20 situation. It was an example of a case where Dana Holgorsen would have thrown past the sticks with a low percentage play. Instead, he decided to pick up a chunk of yardage with a Justin Crawford run, then utilize the punting game to pin OSU. Kinney's punt went 49 yards, putting the Cowboys at the 21-yard line.
  • OSU began to exploit the check downs and slant routes on the next series, moving 71 yards in just 10 plays to take a 6-3 lead with 1:25 left in the first quarter. It marked the first time West Virginia trailed since the 6:12 mark of the fourth quarter versus Kansas State - a period of 79:47.
  • West Virginia responded immediately, going 75 yards in 12 plays, culminated by a 19-yard TD pass from Howard to Shelton Gibson. West Virginia again mixed the run and pass effectively to move inside the red zone. On the scoring play, OSU brought the safety from the boundary side, and Howard recognized it, used the pump fake to freeze the corner and give Gibson several steps. The pass was tight along the sideline and Gibson went and made the grab, dragging the back foot beautifully just inside the line for a 10-6 lead.
  • Rushel Shell was injured midway through the first half and never returned.
  • West Virginia had a chance to extend the cushion, but would be hurt by Howard's fumble inside the 10-yard line while trying to make a play. While wrapped up, Howard tried to pass downfield and instead dropped the ball deep in the Mountaineers' end. OSU recovered at the 8-yard line, and scored two plays later when Mason Rudolph hit Chris Lacy for the five-yard touchdown for a 13-10 advantage. It was WVU's first turnover since it lost a fumble and an interception against Kansas State.
  • The mistakes continued on the ensuing series, as West Virginia's offense moved the ball effectively only to see Molina miss a 39-yard field goal. The junior pushed it wide right, an example of the kind of miscues that cannot be made in a pivotal road contest.
  • The issue began to truly mount the next drive, when Oklahoma State continued to use the quick slant to vacated areas behind blitzing linebackers to move the ball inside the red zone. From there, a personal foul penalty on Maurice Fleming for a late hit after the play handed the Cowboys a first down at WVU's seven yard line. The Cowboys scored three plays later, hitting Jalen McClesky on a receiver screen on third and goal from the three-yard line for the 20-10 lead at the half.
  • The formula was really pretty simple. Exploit the slants and capitalize on the turnover - and it continued all game. With West Virginia missing a field goal and Oklahoma State taking advantage of the Howard fumble for a touchdown, the 10-point difference was obvious. 
  • The mistakes continued on the first drive of the second half, when Oklahoma State was flagged for holding. But at the end of the play Kyzir White grabbed the helmet of Justice Hill to offset the penalty. Instead of having the Cowboys pinned back and behind the sticks, it was first and 10 again and OSU moved 53 yards in eight plays before Ben Grogan missed a 38-yard field goal. 
  • It was Grogan's first miss inside 40 yards this season, and just his third miss in 14 tries.
  • The teams swapped a pair possessions to open the second half, as both Oklahoma State and West Virginia took turns flipping the field position on one another through the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. 
  • West Virginia seemed to finally build some slight momentum when its defense sacked Rudolph on the next series, Xavier Preston forcing a fourth and 15 punt after the five yard loss. The Mountaineers had the ball at the OSU 48-yard line and on one pass play looked to move to the 32. But Howard's pass hit off White's hands and deflected to Ramon Richards, who returned the interception 59 yards to the WVU nine-yard line. Rudolph then used a keeper to score, and Oklahoma State had a 27-10 lead to start the fourth quarter.
  • The Mountaineers kept plugging away, using a quick nine-play, 75-yard drive capped by Howard's 12-yard scoring run tho pull within 27-17. WVU then forced a defensive stop, only to be pushed back by a 61-yard punt from Zach Sinor. It again responded, going 79 yards in 10 plays before stalling at the four-yard line and settling for Molina's 21-yard field goal and a 27-20 game with 8:58 left. The niftiest call on the drive came when Holgorsen faked a run and had Howard flip the ball to Durante for a 20-yard gain that pushed the ball inside the red zone.
  • Oklahoma State quickly answered for the definitive score on Lacy's seven-yard scoring reception from Rudolph for a 34-20 lead. OSU then added another score on fourth and goal from the six on Grogan's final field goal for the 17-point difference.
  • In the end, Oklahoma State won by 17 points, and it managed 17 points off the three West Virginia turnovers. That's the game in a nutshell, along with the defense's inability to cover as effectively as desired, and the allowance of a touchdown instead of field goal in the early quick change situation after Howard's fumble. That slid momentum squarely to OSU, and though the Mountaineers had chances to at least stem the tide, if not reverse it, it never truly recovered thereafter. 

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