MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Everybody has taken a turn for Oklahoma in terms of not delivering on game day.
The defense has had its warts. Offensively, it hasn’t always clicked. But something a little different occurred in the most disappointing loss of the season.
When you combine the discipline problems on the field and the questionable decisions going into some marquee plays, it was a rough afternoon for the OU coaching staff in a perplexing 23-20 loss to West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.
WVU kicked a walk-off field goal to earn its first win against Oklahoma since entering the Big 12.
You could start with third down, but you have to include fourth down. Especially in the Big 12 conference. The game, more than ever before, is a four-down deal compared to three plays and get off the field in this conference.
The Sooners feel like they’re still adjusting to it. OU was a miserable 1-for-11 on third down and failed in both of its fourth down opportunities. WVU, conversely, was 7-for-19 on third down but a statement-making 4-for-5 on fourth down.
“We weren’t very good at the wrong times,” said head coach Brent Venables, who is now 5-5 overall in his first season running the OU show. “Really disappointed for our guys. Seniors. The mistakes that we made today are things that – again – this game will punish you. It comes down to the little things.”
Little things that lead to big things like missing two field goals. Like having six penalties and some at the worst time possible. Like Brayden Willis catching the ball one yard pass the line of scrimmage, resulting in an offensive pass interference penalty and wiping away Willis’ touchdown.
And big things, like Marvin Mims dropping a wide open touchdown pass in the first half. You can massage your way through one or two, but OU has tended to have it happening all in a single game that even when you win the turnover battle 2-0, it doesn’t matter.
Things appeared fixed for OU. From 3-3 to 5-3, there was reason for hope, for belief that the team had figured it out and was poised for a memorable finish.
Now with Bedlam against Oklahoma State looming, your guess is as good as anybody else’s about what’s left in the tank for Venables’ guys.
“Whether that’s coaches or the other leaders on the team, you’ve got to be practical, you’ve got to be honest and you’ve got to have accountability,” Venables said. “We’ve been talking about finishing the right way for a long time. We’ll continue to emphasize those things.
“The journey is tough. It’s challenging. Through disappointment, there’s an opportunity to grow and get better. That’s what we’ll try to do these last two games.”
A journey that got that much tougher after the most puzzling loss of the season to keep OU from being bowl eligible for another week.
To go or not to go
There are going to be decisions a-plenty for OU fans to wonder what was the rational, but nothing is going to eat at them more than the decision to have Zach Schmit kick a field goal with more than six minutes left in the game.
OU faced a fourth-and-three at the WVU 29 yard line, and there was zero hesitancy from Venables to make that call.
Schmit hit the upright. The Mountaineers took over with 6:24 left, and OU never saw the ball again.
“Zach – he’s been outstanding,” Venables said. “All the way since spring ball. And as you saw there, he had plenty of leg. The conditions weren’t that bad on the field.
“And, again, based on how we had been, the lack of execution all day, I didn’t think we were going to miraculously come up with this big-time conversion on fourth down offensively.”
WVU went 65 yards on 15 plays, forced OU to use all three timeouts and kicked a 25-yard chip shot field goal as the clock hit zero.
Broiles injury rocks foundation
OU was already without defensive backs Jaden Davis and Key Lawrence going into the game, but the Sooners lost a crucial component in the first half when Justin Broiles went down.
“Really emotional. He’s kind of the heartbeat of this team,” linebacker DaShaun White said. “To see him go down, it took me a while to snap out of it. He’s the heartbeat of this team. Everybody loves him. Seeing him down was kind of rough. Hoping for the best.”
Broiles appeared to go down from a non-contact injury. He was still trying to fire up the team, and his teammates surrounded him as Broiles was being helped off the field.
“It was rough. It was rough,” safety Billy Bowman said. “He’s one of our best leaders. He’s one of my best friends on the team. So it was rough. We just wanted to go out there and win for him, but unfortunately, we came up short.”
Gray spectacular again
There is not much more, again, that running back Eric Gray can do. With the offense inconsistent in the passing game, he needed to be the guy.
And once again, he delivered. Gray finished with 211 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns.
“That’s probably what I hate the most is that Eric played the way he played again and he’s not getting to enjoy it,” offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. “For the second week in a row it’s a short story for other reasons – situational football today.”
Gray scored OU’s only two touchdowns of the game. Dillon Gabriel threw for 190 yards but didn’t turn the ball over.
Gray surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season during the game.
RSJ, Bowman combine for two points
West Virginia scored with 33 seconds left in the first half to make it OU 10-6. Kick the extra point and make it a field goal difference at halftime?
WVU botched the snap, and Robert Spears-Jennings made a tremendous hit to jar the ball loose. Billy Bowman recovered the fumble and ran it all the way back for two points.
“I just came off the line of scrimmage,” Bowman said. “I’m the safe player, make sure there’s no fakes going on. And they fumbled the snap and RJ hit the kicker and the ball just came loose and I just picked it up and ran with it.
“It felt good. But you can probably tell, that brace, I’m about tired of that brace. Time to get it off. It kind of restricts me a little bit. But it felt good to have the ball back in my hands.”
Bowman had seven tackles, and Spears-Jennings had four tackles in the game.