The Film Room: Reviewing the West Virginia Mountaineers - Oklahoma Sooners Football Game

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - We know any review of the Oklahoma game is painful. Still, there are a couple of lessons to be learned from this grim re-watch, so we didn't shrink from the task in this edition of The Film Room.

West Virginia's four turnovers were all important factors in the game, as the Sooners took full advantage of each by scoring a touchdown immediately following the giveaways. That, in addition to the mental meltdown that WVU allowed itself to be sucked into was all OU needed to cruise to a comfortable win.

The first, Gary Jennings' muff of a punt, was more bad luck than anything. While Jennings got criticized for making an effort to dive for the punt, frame by frame review of the video shows that the ball may have hit Nana Kyeremeh on the foot or lower leg, making it available for recovery by Oklahoma. Jennings certainly thought so, as he told head coach Dana Holgorsen he thought it had hit a teammate, and thus was trying to save the possession. It's tough to say whether or not the ball did hit Kyeremeh, but it did appear to change its trajectory as it passed by him, so there's every reason to understand why Jennings thought so too.

The error on this play, if any, was Kyeremeh's, not Jennings'. The former was trying to throw a block, but did not heed Jennings' warnings to get away from the ball. He was turned in the wrong direction, and didn't respond to the fact that the OU opponent he was trying to block was following the ball as it came down. Had he done so, he might have avoided the punt as it fell. Admittedly, this is a tough play, and it's difficult to criticize Kyeremeh for it. This is an advanced study of situational awareness, and being able to react to a full spin by an opponent and realize it's a reaction to the ball is very tough. However, that's the dividing line between average and great special teams play, and West Virginia's punt return unit is far from the latter.

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Next up is Justin Crawford's fumble. He was stripped in a bit of open field near the goal line, and it's clear that he didn't have the ball locked away. Proper protocol for doing so is a “three-point” lock technique, where the points of the ball are secured by the hand and forearm, with the midpoint tucked up tight against the front of the torso. Crawford had broken through the line into a bit of a clear area, but that perception is always fool's gold near the goal line. Given the lack of space, there are almost always defenders looming, so ball protection here is most critical. Crawford wasn't exactly loose with it, but it was down at his side, and thus susceptible to the strip tackle that knocked the ball free without a great deal of effort.

This isn't Crawford's first fumble in scoring range – his bobble the previous week vs. Texas kept the Mountaineers from building a comfortable lead, and relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the game. He simply has to be more conscious of this, even if it makes him a bit slower or less elusive. I've never been an advocate to tell a player to “go down” when fighting for extra yardage, because those extra markers can wind up being very important. However, ball security has to be a priority.

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In another remarkably similar situation that hearkened back to a previous game, WVU recreated center-quarterback communication issues that existed in the BYU contest for turnover number three. In that one, Tyler Orlosky snapped the ball before Skyler Howard was expecting it, and the resultant fumble kept the Mountaineers off the scoreboard and gave the Cougars a chance to win the game. Against Oklahoma, Orlosky slightly hitched his snap, delaying it just enough so that it didn't reach Howard cleanly.

While Orlosky characterized it as “a communication issue”, it would appear from the video that the fault was his. Howard and the entire line started as Orlosky began to move the ball for the snap, but the half-beat of delay threw the exchange off and caused the turnover. It's reasonable to assume that the fault lay at the front of the snap, because it's unlikely that Howard and the rest of the offensive line all made the same mistake of starting early. (It should be noted we're not trying to call anyone out or embarrass them here. However, the look at what went wrong has to include a dispassionate look at the performances of all involved.)

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Finally, there's the third-quarter interception for a touchdown that all but sealed the OU win. There's not much doubt that Howard made a bad read and didn't see the Oklahoma defender as he dropped under his intended receiver, but there's a lot of blame that should go to the coach staff for this fourth-and-three call. Crawford was over 200 yards rushing at this point, and the Mountaineers called four consecutive passes after riding a big run into OU territory. Two were incomplete, with the last, this fourth-downer, getting returned for a score. Why? It was obvious to that point that Howard was struggling with accuracy issues, and that the Sooners had no more chance of stopping the OU running game that I do of teeing it up at The Masters. Those calls may have demonstrated that the Sooners were in the heads of some WVU coaches as well as the players.

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