MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia had a chance Saturday for its first-ever road win over an opponent ranked in the top eight nationally, but it came up short at No. 3/4 Oklahoma, falling 16-13 on a last-second Sooner field goal.
The Mountaineers are now 0-33 all-time against top eight opponents on the road, while holding a 5-20 record at home and a 2-5 mark in neutral site games.
“We’re an improving football team, but we’ve got to take the next step and win those football games,” stated WVU head coach Neal Brown, whose squad fell to 2-2 on the season with the loss to the Sooners. “Oklahoma is a good football team; they’re talented. But we were good enough on that night to win, and we’ve got to get over the hump and do that.
“I thought we played tough and physical, but we just made too many critical mistakes to win the game,” he added.
“On offense, we had a good plan, and we really battled up front. Their d-line is very good, but our guys battled. Both our quarterbacks did some good things, and (WVU’s receivers) won against man coverage.
“Our defense played very, very well for three quarters. We ran to the ball, tackled well, we were physical. We were great on first down, and that’s a stat that gets lost. We prevented all but one deep ball, but I think we got tired late. Their last two drives went 16 plays and 14 plays. I thought we wore down a little bit then. From a coaching perspective, we’ve got to rotate our d-line maybe a little bit more.”
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West Virginia certainly had a chance to leave Norman with its first-ever victory over the Sooners – home or away – since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
Three Mountaineer miscues in the second half proved critical in keeping WVU from adding to its 10-7 halftime lead.
“We had three possessions in the second half,” recalled Brown. “The first one we drove down and got a procedure penalty on the one when it was second down. I felt like we really had a chance to make a statement there, but we didn’t get it in (settling for a field goal and a 13-10 lead). The second one, after we got the fourth-down stop, we missed a throw on third down. The third one, we were in really good position. We drove down to their 27-yard line with 5:50 to go.”
At that point, WVU freshman center Zach Frazier had miscues on back-to-back plays, getting flagged for a snap infraction and then sailing a snap wide of quarterback Jarret Doege, resulting in a 21-yard loss. Suddenly a promising drive was halted, and West Virginia was forced to punt with the score tied at 13-13. The Mountaineer offense would never get the ball back, as Oklahoma took possession at its own eight-yard line and marched 80 yards over the final 3:39 to set up Gabe Brkic’s game-winning 30-yard field goal.
“Here’s what it comes down to – we got the ball to the 27-yard line, and then we got a false start when it was second-and-seven. Then we had a bad snap,” explained Brown, who is 13-13 overall and 2-8 against ranked opponents since becoming WVU’s head coach in 2019. “The thing is Zach Frazier played his ass off – I may not be able to say that on live radio. He did; he played well. Zach Frazier, if he’s not our hardest worker, he’s in the conversation, not to hurt anyone else’s feelings. He’s the most prepared and is one of our hardest workers in practice. He does everything to give himself an opportunity to play well on Saturday night. I think we had 63 countable snaps, and 59 of those were pretty good (for Frazier), even though he was playing against two guys who are very good. I thought he did a great job, but he had two bad plays. There’s not much we’ll correct. He only had one other bad snap the whole game. He thought the quarterback asked for the ball, though he didn’t. That’s kind of what it is. I’ll say this, Zach Frazier, over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, I’ll take him in that situation every single time. He’ll learn from it and move on.”
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West Virginia purposely tried to slow the pace Saturday in an attempt to keep the ball out of the hands of the normally dynamic Sooner offense.
West Virginia won the time-of-possession battle 33:00 to 27:00, though that ultimately wasn’t enough to win the war.
While Brown was happy to keep the time-of-possession balance on his side, he would have liked to have seen the Mountaineers make more explosive plays.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting us in some successful shot plays. We called them, but we didn’t have them open. That’s on me at the end of the day,” said WVU’s head coach.
“We have to figure out ways to get more explosive plays. We were able to hold on to the football quite a bit, but we have to score touchdowns to win those games. You wanted to minimize possessions against them. If you look at Oklahoma, they haven’t lost very many shootouts. So, you want to minimize possessions, but when you do that, you’re not going to get many shots, so when you get in the red zone, you’ve got to score touchdowns. And you can’t make mistakes that hurt you. At the end of the day, that’s what we did.”
West Virginia had just two plays of 20 yards or longer at OU – a 28-yard pass from Doege to Winston Wright and a 20-yard run by Leddie Brown. In WVU’s three games prior to facing Oklahoma, the Mountaineers had 18 gains of 20 yards or more.
“Going into the Oklahoma contest, we were first or second in the league in explosive plays,” noted Brown. “I think we were three of eight on down-the-field throws (against OU). You’re a little limited because you have to be careful protection-wise against that group that Oklahoma has. So, we were three of eight with a drop. That’s 50%, which isn’t bad, but we’ve got to get the ball 20+ yards on those explosive plays. That’s where, schematically, we have to do a better job against those type of people, that type of pass rush. We have to do some different things protection-wise to allow us to hold on to the ball a little longer so we can get the ball down the field.”
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The Mountaineers’ lost at Oklahoma was the continuation of a troubling second-half trend. In its three games against FBS foes this year, WVU has been limited to a single second-half field goal in each.
In its 30-24 loss at Maryland in the season opener, West Virginia’s only second-half points came on a fourth-quarter field goal with 2:53 left in the game. Against Virginia Tech, WVU got a field goal on its first drive of the second half to push its lead to 27-7 but went scoreless after that, forcing it to scratch and claw in holding on for a 27-21 win. Then Saturday at Oklahoma, the Mountaineers again got a field goal on their first possession of the second half, increasing their lead to 13-10 at the time. WVU failed to score after that, though, allowing room for the Sooners’ comeback.
Though the second-half scoring was identical in each game, Brown said the circumstances were different, at least in this most recent one.
“We have to get better; that’s the truth of it. We have to score more in the second half,” admitted Brown.
“We’ve had really good drives to start the second half every time, but we just had to kick field goals,” he continued. “(The criticism) is fair for Maryland and is fair for Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech, we kind of took the air out of it, and we probably did that too early. It was 27-7, and we thought we were one score from putting that away. Maryland was fair too, but this last week, not as much. We only had three (second half) possessions, and we had productive drives on two of them. We should have scored a touchdown on one but had to settle for a field goal. Then we were in position on another. It was fair Virginia Tech and Maryland but not as much this past week.”
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WVU now turns its attention to Texas Tech (3-1), which is coming off a 70-35 loss at Texas this past weekend.
The Red Raiders started the season with three straight wins over Houston (38-21), Stephen F. Austin (28-22) and FIU (54-21) before being brought back to earth in Austin.
West Virginia leads the all-time series against TTU 6-4, which includes a five-game win streak from 2014-18. But Tech coach Matt Wells’ crew has found a way to upend Brown’s Mountaineers in each of the last two seasons – 38-17 in Morgantown in 2019 and 34-27 in Lubbock in 2020.
“Texas Tech has had our number the past two years. Everybody knows that,” stated Brown. “We haven’t played well against them. They beat us, but we haven’t played well.”
WVU is currently a seven-point favorite for Saturday’s contest at Mountaineer Field, which will kick off at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern time) and will be televised on ESPN2.
“We’re glad to be home, Stripe the Stadium,” said Brown. “I think it’s important to note that (former West Virginia All-American linebacker) Darryl Talley is getting his number (90) retired. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him the past few years. He’s as good a defensive player who has ever played here. He’s special.”