MORGANTOWN, WV – In the biggest game in West Virginia in many years, a game with the locals hyped and sauced to the gills, a game where the home team was fighting perceived disrespect from the CFP committee and fighting for a chance at a conference title, Oklahoma played the role of, well, Oklahoma. The Sooners rolled into a roiling Morgantown Saturday night and rolled over the Mountaineers 56-28, in a strange game that was at once closer than the score indicated, and then again not as close as the score indicated.
The strangeness started early, as the Sooners came together for their long-established hype session at midfield at the conclusion of pregame warmups. For some reason, WVU’s entire team charged them and initiated a confrontation. It seemed to have been premeditated, as we have never seen such a thing happen in the last 25 years, and it is certainly not a secret how the Sooners conclude their pregame warmups. In the end, there was nothing more than jawing and shoving, and the local constabulary intervened to send the squads to their locker rooms. The incident would not prove to have the effect that the Mountaineers intended.
Another strange element was the weather. Had this game been played Friday night, the question would have been whether to wear shorts or not. However, for once the weather geeks were spot-on with their forecast of temps in the low 30s with a chance of snow. In the event, there was more than a chance of snow, as for a time, it looked as if Milan Puskar Stadium were ensconced in the center of a giant snow globe. Indeed, at the coin flip, it was difficult to see the proceedings at midfield through the heavy, wet snowflakes cascading down. Fortunately, the heavy snow stopped shortly after the game started and didn’t resume until the fourth quarter.
The Sooner rushing game and WVU turnovers were the real story of this game, along with pathetic defense that eventually allowed WVU to make it sort of interesting in the fourth quarter. Samaje Perine had 160 yards and two TDs on 31 carries, while Joe Mixon added 147 yards and 1 TD on 24 carries. Baker Mayfield was 9 of 15 for 169 yards, two TDs, and one interception. Dede Westbrook had two catches for 100 yards and a TD, including a scintillating 75-yarder where he broke several tackles and took it to the house. Westbrook’s two catches happened in the first five minutes of the game.
The Sooner defense, which had many troubles on the night, recovered three WVU fumbles, two deep in Sooner territory, and had a pick-six. Collectively, between denying WVU points and leading to Sooner points, the four turnovers represented a 42-point difference in the scoring in OU’s favor.
The Sooners took the opening kickoff and picked up a first down on the first play, then could move no further, with two dropped on-target passes from Mayfield, and were forced to punt. However, the punt was muffed and OU recovered on the WVU 34. Four Mixon runs took it to the WVU 3, and two plays later, Perine smashed in from the two for a 7-0 lead. After a three-and-out, Westbrook took it cross-country for his 75-yard TD, and the Sooners led 14-0 less than six minutes into the game.
After another WVU punt, OU rode Mixon and Perine, with a 25-yard completion to Westbrook mixed in, to a first and goal at the WVU 5. Mayfield then hit Jeffery Mead for the TD, and OU led 21-0 with 3:24 to play in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, WVU’s Justin Crawford started running roughshod over the Sooner defense. Consecutive carries of 29 and 36 yards put WVU in business at the Sooner 22. However, three plays later, Jordan Evans knocked the ball loose from Crawford and Jordan Thomas recovered at the OU 4 to end the WVU threat. OU then rode Mixon and Perine down the field, with a completion to Mead and a personal foul on WVU helping, for a 96-yard TD drive that made it 28-0 with 10:07 to play in the first half.
A 61-yard run by Crawford on the ensuing possession took it inside the Sooner 10, but a fumbled snap was recovered by Matt Romar on the Sooner 3. The Sooners then gave the ball to Perine on 11 straight plays and, helped by 30 yards worth of personal foul penalties on WVU on the same play, punched in a TD from nine yards out to make it 34-0 with 2:26 to play in the first half, after Austin Seibert missed the extra point.
A personal foul on the Sooners on the ensuing kickoff gave WVU a short field at their 40, and they would take advantage in short order. A 20-yard TD pass with 1:31 to play made it 34-7 and completed the first-half scoring, at which point a large number of the home fans departed the scene for the evening.
On the first possession of the second half, WVU again moved into OU territory. However, Evans picked off a Skyler Howard pass at the Sooner 20 and returned it 80 yards for a TD to make it 41-7, and more of the home fans departed. After two WVU punts and one Sooner punt, OU had their only turnover of the night when Mayfield was picked off at the WVU 39. A 45-yard run from Crawford sparked the ensuing drive, and the TD made it 41-14.
OU then went three-and-out, and on the first play after the punt, Howard hit a 61-yard bomb that put the ball at the OU 18. Two plays later, Howard ran it in from nine yards out, and it was 41-21 with 14:32 to play, and memories of purple Frogs began to dance. Another Sooner three-and-out, another WVU TD pass, and it was 41-28 with still 10:06 to play in the game, and the alarm bells were clanging loudly.
Fortunately, the Sooner offense quelled any further comeback. Fueled by a pair of huge third-down passes to Mark Andrews and Geno Lewis, the Sooners moved to the Mountaineer 14. A pass interference penalty in the end zone moved it to the two, then Mayfield took it in from the one-yard line, and the two-point conversion pass to Andrews made it 49-28 with 4:37 to play in the game.
The Sooner defense held WVU on four plays on the next possession, ending it with a fourth-down sack of Howard. OU took over on the WVU 28 and Perine took it to the seven on the first play of the drive. Four plays later, with 27 seconds left in the game, Mayfield kept around right end on fourth down for the TD to forge the final score of 56-28.
The stats from this game were very strange, certainly not what you would have expected from a four TD beatdown. Of course, the Sooners’ strange stats were skewed by both the weather conditions, which limited Mayfield’s passing, as well as the runaway in the first half, which caused a (certainly premature, as it turned out) focus on running clock and shortening the game. WVU outgained the Sooners 579-485, and had 388 yards rushing, averaging 10.2 yards per attempt. Crawford had 331 of that by himself, averaging a staggering 13.8 yards per carry and nearly breaking Tavon Austin’s school single-game rushing record set against the Sooners four years ago. The Sooners also doubled WVU in time of possession, 39:54 to 20:06, partly because the Sooners were trying to run clock, and partly because the OU defense was a sieve most of the night and it didn’t take the Mountaineers long to score.
With Louisville getting comprehensively thumped by Houston Thursday night, one of the big dominoes that needed to fall for the Sooners to make the Playoff went down. That took one team out above us, and also improved the quality of our loss to Houston. For those Twitter pundits not understanding why Houston will not now jump into the rankings and over us – they got thumped by SMU. Another huge domino very nearly fell in East Lansing, Michigan, but Mark Dantonio went for two when he could have tied Ohio State in the fourth quarter and ended up losing by a point. On a side note, we made a five-mile reconnaissance trip on the way to Morgantown from Dayton, Ohio and visited The Horseshoe in Columbus yesterday. Not very big on the outside, but tall and steep.
Although OSU losing to TCU would have clinched us the outright conference title last night, it was better for our Playoff chances that they won. It didn't hurt that they put a thumping on the Frogs, setting up, yet again, an OU-OSU game that is the de facto conference championship game. This time, we get a shot to win it at home, for the first time ever, and it will be a top 10 matchup, which will not hurt our Playoff chances. Remember the rankings boost we got when we beat Baylor last year? We might get some more of that this week, and more if (when) we beat Aggy. Thumping them again wouldn’t hurt, either.
Think about this, as well. With the new Big 12 Championship Game setup, if next season were to go exactly like this season (and last season, for that matter), the game against OSU in two weeks would literally be meaningless as far as the conference race, and we would already know that we would be playing them two weeks in a row. We could curb stomp them in game 1, but game 2 would be the one that decided the conference champion. It will probably take that exact scenario happening a couple of times before the conference realizes it needs to go back to divisions to prevent it. The depth of stupidity of the Big 12 powers that be is truly astounding.
Your rooting interest for Sooner playoff chances are thus, in descending order of importance: Michigan over Ohio State and Michigan subsequently winning the Big 10 championship game (or Penn State losing to Michigan State and Ohio State beating Michigan and then winning the Big 10 Championship Game), Washington State over Washington (or Washington losing the PAC 12 Championship Game, preferably not to Colorado), South Carolina over Clemson (or likely ACC Championship Game opponent Virginia Tech and our man Justin Fuente upsetting Clemson and winning the ACC), and Utah over Colorado to remove a potential complication from a surging Buffs team.
The worst case scenario is Ohio State beating Michigan but Penn State beating Michigan State. That would leave Ohio State as a one-loss team that just beat a top four team, but didn’t win their division or their conference. In all likelihood, the committee would put them in, and there would be a good possibility of two Big 10 teams, and that would be it. Of course, there is the chance that we wouldn't jump a two-loss Ohio State team, since they thumped us and all, but the Big 12 title could be enough to overcome that. In the end, if we don’t make the playoff, we have only ourselves to blame – should have beaten Houston and we’d be in the top four already.
There are those who say they don’t want to make the Playoff again because we’ll just get thumped by Bama. Those people are wrong, although likely not about the getting thumped by Bama part. We would rather get blown out in the national semifinal than win the Sugar Bowl, any day of the week. The expectations for this program are championships, always. You can’t win a championship for which you don’t play, simple as that. And while Alabama is a superior team to us in many respects, and would be heavily favored, that doesn't mean we cant beat them, and we shouldn't shy away from the chance to do so. If we get thumped, so be it – wouldn't be the first time and surely wouldn't be the last, either.
Worst case scenario with a win over OSU would be the Sugar Bowl, against one of Tennessee, Florida, or Texas A&M. Thankfully, when Florida beat LSU yesterday with a goal line stand on the final play of the game, it all but eliminated the chance of having to play LSU in New Orleans. Were we to lose to OSU, the Cotton Bowl would be a possibility, depending on how things play out elsewhere. Honestly, given what happened to OSU against a directional Michigan school earlier in the season, we kind of hope they end up in the Cotton Bowl, where they would, in all likelihood, play Western Michigan, the current king of directional Michigan schools.
In any event, that’s all from Appalachia. Stay warm, enjoy your Thanksgiving holidays, watch a lot of football, and we will see you in Norman on the first Saturday in December for the annual roasting of the Aggy.