West Virginia hung tough with No. 16 Oklahoma for three plus quarters Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, but ultimately too many mistakes and inconsistent play led to the Mountaineers 16-7 defeat in front of 84,692, a record 88th consecutive sellout.
It was a game that featured eight turnovers between the two teams, and offenses that struggled to finish drives. Paul Millard started and played the entire game for West Virginia but turned the ball over twice on a sack and an interception while finishing 21-40 for 218 yards. His counterpart, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight was 10 for 20 for 119 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but was replaced late in the game by Blake Bell.
As expected, Oklahoma relied heavily on the run game, rushing for 323 yards against a West Virginia defense, with Brennan Clay accounting for 170 of those. The defense was able to come up with some big plays including several turnovers in the redzone, but the offense failed to move the ball against the Sooners defense with consistency.
West Virginia for the first crack with the football and was able to move the ball to the Oklahoma 48-yard line on a 24-yard pass to Sims out of the backfield when Millard was flushed from the pocket. But after a chop block on Smith forced the Mountaineers to play behind the sticks, they punted the football back to the Sooners deep in their own end.
Oklahoma's possession began at the 10-yard line and after an opening 9-yard scramble by Knight, but on the ensuing play the snap went through his hands resulting in an intentional grounding at the one-yard line. However, the impact of the play would prove to be minimal, as Brennan Clay ripped off a 34-yard run to give the Sooners a jolt. The West Virginia defense would stand strong holding the series on their next three downs and forcing the first Oklahoma punt of night.
The Mountaineers would strike first on the next possession after Kevin White hauled in his first pass for a ten yard gain; Smith took the ball up the middle, battled through the tackles of several defenders and then used his jets down the sideline to out run the Sooners defense 75-yards giving the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead.
West Virginia's defense held Oklahoma to a three and out initially, but a roughing the punter penalty extended the drive deep into the Mountaineers territory with a 12-play 51 yard drive that was capped by off by a 44-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt to put the score a 7-3 with 4:22 left in the opening quarter.
On the next Mountaineers possession, Sims ripped off an 11-yard run on an impressive juke move by the Houston transfer, but outside of that West Virginia could not generate any offense and was forced to punt the ball back to the Sooners. And likewise, the West Virginia defense continued a strong opening period with a three and out that included turning away and third and one forcing a punt.
But for the second time in the first quarter a special team's gaffe on a muffed punt by Alford gave the Sooners the football deep inside West Virginia's territory.
From there, the Sooners would seize control of the lead set up by a 17-yard scamper off the right side by Damien Williams that was initially ruled a touchdown, but later reviewed and marked down at the one. Oklahoma would connect on a one-yard touchdown pass from Knight to Millard with 13:35 left in the second quarter to give the Sooners a 10-7 advantage in the game.
The Mountaineers moved the ball into Sooners territory on the next drive, in large part due to a 33-yard pitch and catch from Millard to Ronald Carswell down the sideline. But the this time the offense took a turn shooting itself in the foot, first with a false start penalty on third and short and then Oklahoma defensive back Kass Everett was able to get off the edge on a blitz to force the ball loose from Millard and give the football back to the Sooners at midfield.
The defense did its part again after a 32-yard pass play to LaColton Bester on third down looked to have the Sooners primed for another opportunity in the red zone, Isaiah Bruce was able to strip the football giving West Virginia the ball back at its own 18-yard line.
The Mountaineers would do little with the momentum putting up a three and out, before a bad punt by Nick O'Toole allowed the Sooners to start at the West Virginia 43-yard line. Knight would run for 14-yards to put ball at the West Virginia 31, but on third down the defense rose to the challenge again forcing another fumble when Brandon Golson came off the edge to deliver a crushing hit on the Sooners quarterback jarring the ball lose into Will Clarke's waiting arms.
But West Virginia was unable to manufacture anything offensively resulting in a three and out and a booming punt to pin the Sooners deep in their own territory with 4:09 left in the first half. The Mountaineers would bring pressure off the edge as the Sooners went to an up-tempo attack, and a quick throw to Saunders down the middle of the field resulted in a 20-yard gain where Karl Joseph saved a touchdown with a shoe-string tackle.
The Sooners would then march the ball down the field on a 13-play, 83-yard drive in 3:53 seconds to eat up the remainder of the half and take the ball to the West Virginia 4-yard line, but the Mountaineers would hold again the in the red zone, forcing the home team into a 21-yard field goal to give them a 13-7 lead heading into the half.
West Virginia opened the second half forcing a three and out from the Sooners, but the Mountaineers returned the favor first going in reverse with a false start penalty and a pair of incomplete passes then a screen to White for 9-yards forced O'Toole to come back on the field to boot the ball.
The Sooners went back to the up-tempo style that was successful at the end of the first half to run the ball very effectively on the Mountaineers with a 12 yard run, a 4 yard run, a 34 yard run and a 26-yard scamper to move the ball to the five yard line, but as they did on several other instances, the defense made a stand.
After gashing the Mountaineers on the ground, the Sooners elected to throw the football and Knight put it right into the waiting mitts of Darwin Cook, who caught the ball in the air to hold the score at 13-7 Sooners.
West Virginia was able to move the ball into plus territory, but Millard threw an interception to Gabe Lynn, giving the Sooners the ball back and momentum. They wasted little time getting back to work on the ground breaking off another huge run. The West Virginia defense forced Knight into another crucial mistake right outside the red zone, when a pass down the middle of the field was tipped by Marvin Gross and fell into the waiting arms of Karl Joseph.
After taking over, Millard managed to find Ivan McCartney in the middle of the field to keep the drive alive, and then a pass interference call on Oklahoma grabbing Sims out of the backfield put the ball at the 41-yard line.
West Virginia was able to move the ball deep into Sooners territory, but mistakes loomed large again for the Mountaineers when White got loose on a third and 20 and appeared to have the first down but fumbled the ball away to the Sooners who scooped up the football and moved it out to the 41-yard line.
The Mountaineers held the Sooners once again into a three and out, but Oklahoma pinned West Virginia at the five yard line with 2:31 left in the third quarter, but they were unable to generate any offense giving the ball back to Knight and company at the 38-yard line. West Virginia's defense was able to once again hold strong and force a three and out by Oklahoma allowing another opportunity for the Mountaineers.
However, as was the case for much of the third quarter, West Virginia once again failed to move the ball, giving the Sooners the ball near mid field. That's when Blake Bell entered the game to the thunderous applause of the Sooners faithful.
Relying on a heavy dose of runs, the Oklahoma offense moved the ball down to the 19-yard line, but West Virginia was able to hold on third down forcing the Sooners into a 32-yard field goal that split the uprights giving the Sooners a 16-7 advantage with 10:16 left to play in the game.
On the ensuing possession, West Virginia moved the ball to midfield after some impressive runs by Sims but at the Oklahoma 44-yard line, the Mountaineers were facing a fourth and two and after burning their timeouts earlier in the half, Millard took a delay of game. On the fourth down, Millard attempted to hit Cody Clay but was unable to connect, giving the Sooners the ball back.
Bell would once again lead the Sooners deep into West Virginia's end of the field, relying heavily on the run as Oklahoma chewed up valuable minutes off a turning fourth quarter clock as the Mountaineers had no timeouts to stop it. The Sooners would attempt a 35-yard field goal that missed.
The Mountaineers were able to drive the football deep into Oklahoma territory late in the game and were stuffed at the three yard-line on an untimed down after a roughing the passer penalty on the Sooners on the game's should be final play.