MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University football team will not be going to a bowl game in Neal Brown’s first season as head coach.
WVU needed to win its final two games of the season to reach six wins and bowl eligibility, but that dream ended Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium as No. 22 Oklahoma State rallied in the fourth quarter to beat West Virginia 20-13.
The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) have now lost six of their last seven games and did not win a Big 12 game in Morgantown this season.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Brown said after the game. “I thought they played extremely hard. The last time I was in this chair after a game at home [against Texas Tech], I was not pleased with the performance we had and how we represented our program. It’s a totally different story today. I’m proud of our guys, but I hate it for our seniors.”
West Virginia’s defense came to play Saturday against the Cowboys (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) and sophomore running back Chuba Hubbard — the nation’s leading rusher entering this week’s games.
OSU drove deep into WVU territory on its first possession, but the Mountaineer defense came up with stops inside the the 5-yard line to force a fourth-and-1 situation. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy elected to go for it, and quarterback Dru Brown — playing in place of the injured Spencer Sanders — found Jelani Woods all alone on a play-action pass to open the scoring.
Hubbard finished Saturday’s game well below his season rushing average with 106 yards and no touchdowns, but he did catch seven passes for 88 yards.
“Chuba is the real deal,” Neal Brown said. “He hurt us in the pass game today, especially on a couple of screens and third downs. They got the ball to him. He either made us miss or stiff-arm or ran through tackles. We had him bottled up a couple times, and he got out. That’s not just us, he’s been like that all year. I knew coming in he was a great player, and I thought we did some nice things defensively.”
West Virginia had its chances to put more points on the scoreboard, but the Mountaineers found ways — sometimes with OSU’s help — of coming up short on several occasions.
After the Cowboys’ first touchdown, WVU was marching into OSU territory when starting quarterback Jarret Doege took a sack on second down followed by a false start by senior left tackle Colton McKivitz. That pushed the Mountaineers back and stalled the drive, which ended with a 47-yard Evan Staley field goal attempt falling well short.
In the second quarter the Mountaineers were on the cusp of another breakthrough when several factors worked against them. On second-and-10 from the Oklahoma State 12, Doege threw a pass caught by Sam James that was ruled down at the 1, but a replay appeared to show James scoring before he was down. After a review, the ruling on the field was upheld and the ball was placed at the 1-yard line for first down. Doege was stuffed on quarterback sneak attempts on first and second down, followed by a false start on guard Mike Brown and an incomplete pass on third down. WVU settled for a field goal from Staley to end the drive.
“At some points today we looked like we were getting ready to take off,” Neal Brown said. “I think the story of the game came down to the issues we had all year. They are issues that haunted us today — our lack of ability to run the football.
“We didn’t score touchdowns in the red zone and we had critical drops. I think we had four drops in the second half. Some of those were competitive catches, but you have to make those to win games, and we didn’t do it.”
The Mountaineers did find the end zone later in the second quarter when Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell caught a 34-yard touchdown pass Doege had to throw off his back foot and place in a near perfect spot. That was the bright spot for the Mountaineer offense on Saturday and the only touchdown the team would score in the final home game of the 2019 season.
Oklahoma State wore down the undermanned West Virginia defense in the second half and took a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on Dru Brown’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Dillon Stoner. OSU added a 22-yard field goal by Matt Ammendola with 6:18 to play, putting the Cowboys ahead 20-13 but also leaving the door open to the possibility of a Mountaineer comeback.
WVU took over possession at its own 25 and only needed three plays to get to Oklahoma State’s side of the field. The Mountaineers moved the ball down to the OSU 18, but the all-too-familiar red-zone woes surfaced again. West Virginia ran six plays inside the OSU 20 on its final drive and lost a yard in the process. Doege faced an all-out blitz on fourth down and the pass intended for T.J. Simmons fell incomplete — ending the drive, the game and West Virginia’s 2019 bowl hopes.
“They zero-blitzed us on George’s touchdown earlier in the game,” Neal Brown said. “We ran the same play [on the last fourth down]. It comes down to one play. That one play didn’t necessarily hurt us, but we had a couple opportunities on that drive to make plays and we didn’t do it. It’s disappointing.”
Doege finished Saturday’s game 28 of 38 on pass attempts for 307 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Sophomore Leddie Brown led WVU with 31 rushing yards on 13 attempts. Campbell’s 92 receiving yards were a team-high for WVU, as were James’ seven receptions.
For Oklahoma State, Dru Brown completed 22 of 29 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Hubbard was the team’s leading receiver with 88 yards and also the leading rusher with 106 yards on the ground.
“In the second half, we just started riding Chuba,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “He had a 200-yard day rushing and passing. West Virginia has had a lot of success on defense with some of the thing they do. It kind of forced us to migrate into throwing the ball to him some, more so than him running.”
West Virginia closes the 2019 football season on Friday at TCU.