Hurts Too Much: WVU Can’t Slow Sooner QB
There may be some doubt if West Virginia lost to the best team in the nation on Saturday when No. 5 Oklahoma put a beating on the Mountaineers, 52-14, but there is little doubt that they were beaten by a quarterback who certainly seems to qualify as the best player in the nation — Jalen Hurts.
It’s true Hurts was facing a patchwork WVU defense of freshmen, backups and players gerrymandered into new spots to try and offer some competition, but the Alabama transfer played a near perfect game in the three quarters in which he was on the field.
Hurts’ numbers were good, but not as good as he was. For example, he completed 16-of-17 passes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, for his only incompletion came on a drop by Drake Stoops.
His yardage was 316, but that clearly would have soared past 400 yards had he remained in the game to the final gun. He also threw for three touchdowns. That gave him an unworldly quarterback rating of 308.5 for the day.
That is the top quarterback efficiency rating in the NCAA this season.
“He made some jaw-dropping type throws,” said his coach, the quarterback guru Lincoln Riley.
While that’s a fine day’s work, Hurts also found time to run the football 10 times for 75 yards and two more touchdowns.
It was as if he never made a wrong read, never picked the wrong hole to run through and never showed so much a tic of panic.
“I think he’s special,” said West Virginia Coach Neal Brown. “Look at his high school record. Look at his record at Alabama. He’s undefeated here. He’s a winner.”
While WVU’s quarterback Austin Kendall does not carry a special tag on him, he did show the grit and courage that you want out of your team leader. He injured a pectoral muscle in his chest last week against Iowa State and didn’t know if he could play until Wednesday of this week.
Then to add the injury situation, he was coming back to the school which had recruited him and where he spent three years backing up Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, never having a realistic chance to play until he transferred to WVU.
Certainly that, too, played on his mind.
While greeted warmly by former teammates before the game, they showed him no mercy during the game.
He finished 15-of-31 for 182 yards but avoided any interceptions and connected with fast rising wide receiver T.J. Simmons for a pair of touchdowns. Simmons finished the day with six catches for 74 yards.
“He looked like he belonged,” Brown said of Simmons. “I think we had a few guys that looked like they belonged. He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s a great player. He’s physical. I think Austin looked like he belonged.”
As Neal Brown noted after the game, it is extremely difficult to pass judgement on Kendall’s play because he is playing on a team not ready for prime time … or even noon games.
“I don’t know if this game is a good enough indictment of Austin, or even if this season, because we have not played well enough around him,” Brown said. “Outside of two games, we haven’t been able to establish any type of running game around him. I think we had at least four drops in the first half. I don’t know how many in the second half.
On the flip side, the Sooners ran up 560 yards in total offense while holding the Mountaineers to 242, with just 51 in 30 carries on the ground.
Once again WVU did what it could to stay close in the first half, Kendall’s 38- and 7-yard scoring passes to T.J. Simmons allowing WVU to head to the locker room down 28-14.
In the second half it all came unraveled, OU scoring 24 unanswered points including a touchdown on a blocked punt.
It was obvious throughout that WVU was being manhandled up front and that it had no answers for Hurts and his dual capacity excellence.
And so WVU flew home at 3-4 on the year while Oklahoma jumped to 7-0, truly looking like a national championship contender.
“That’s a championship-level football team in the other locker room,” Brown said. “They’ve got all of the ingredients to make a run.”
“I think we are serious about being a good football team,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “We are pretty unselfish as a team. I like our makeup now.”