NORMAN, Okla. — With the way both West Virginia and No. 4 Oklahoma struggled offensively throughout much of Saturday’s Big 12 opener, some would say the teams set the sport of football back a number of years.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, another fantastic defensive effort wasn’t enough to turn the clock back 39 of them.
Oklahoma kicker Gabe Brkic booted home a 30-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Sooners their first lead and the only one they needed as they escaped with a 16-13 win over the upset-minded Mountaineers, denying WVU a tantalizing chance at its first win in Norman since 1982.
It was an all-too-familiar story for West Virginia, which in large part stymied a powerful offense but couldn’t muster enough of its own to get over the hump. While the Mountaineers limited Oklahoma to 313 yards of offense, WVU managed just 226, and although turnovers weren’t an issue this time around, other mistakes — namely penalties and a late bad snap — certainly were.
“Credit Oklahoma for pulling it out in the end,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I love our guys, I love our staff, I love our plays. I thought they fought their ass off for four quarters, really.
“If you look at it, we had chances. Absolutely we had some chances. Game played out in a good way for us and we just ran out of time. Ran out of time. Credit to them, they did a nice job. Tough loss but proud of our guys.”
West Virginia certainly had its chances. Early, late and often, the last of which came after Brkic booted a 35-yard field goal with 8:52 remaining to tie things up at 13.
The Mountaineers (2-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12 Conference) took the ensuing kickoff and got all the way down to the Oklahoma 28-yard line. But on second-and-7, the Mountaineers were called for a false-start penalty, and on the next play, a Zach Frazier snap was errant, getting past WVU quarterback Jarret Doege and resulting in a 21-yard loss and a third-and-33. Following a 1-yard run for Leddie Brown, the Mountaineers punted.
Oklahoma took over at its own 8-yard line with 3:39 remaining and never gave the ball back as the Sooners drove 80 yards on 14 plays, exhausting the clock and ending with Brkic’s game-winner.
Like the first game, the Mountaineers’ inability to sustain drives resulted in a worn-down WVU defense. The Sooners (4-0, 1-0) ran a combined 30 plays on their final two drives, and though the Mountaineers kept Oklahoma out of the end zone, it wasn’t enough.
“Here’s what I take away: I hurt in the pit of my stomach for our players,” Brown said. “I hurt because we had a plan. We came in here, we fought against a team that year-in and year-out that’s at the top of the recruiting rankings. Year-in, year-out they’re top five or 10 in the country and they’re dominant in our league and dominant at home for the most part.
“We had an opportunity to win and we just didn’t. We just didn’t. That’s hard. When you invest like we have ... we had a great week, great prep. The guys were ready to go. I thought we handled everything that goes with it and we just didn’t get it done.”
Other trends continued as well. Again, rushing was an issue as West Virginia mustered only 47 yards on the ground, though that total was skewed a bit by the blown snap. Leddie Brown finished with 56 yards on 15 carries while Doege threw for 160 on 20-for-29 passing. Bryce Ford-Wheaton led all receivers with 93 yards on eight catches.
West Virginia also squandered a pair of golden opportunities in the third quarter. After Brkic hit a 28-yard field goal to tie the score at 10 after the Sooners’ opening drive of the second half, West Virginia, alternating quarterbacks between Doege and backup Garrett Greene again, marched down inside the Oklahoma 1-yard line. But a false-start penalty backed WVU up on second down and Doege overthrew an open Ford-Wheaton in the back of the end zone on third down. The Mountaineers settled for a Casey Legg field goal to take a 13-10 lead.
On the following possession, the WVU defense made another stand, stuffing an Oklahoma run attempt on fourth-and-1 from midfield, turning the ball back over to its offense with great field position and the lead. But West Virginia couldn’t do anything with it, going three-and-out.
The teams traded first-possession touchdowns to open the game with Garrett Greene running in from 2 yards for West Virginia and Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler hitting Austin Stogner on third down from 5 yards out to tie things up with 2:46 left in the opening period.
A defensive battle developed as the teams’ next eight combined drives covered just 90 yards and ended with six punts and an interception each from Rattler and Doege.
However, taking over after at the 50-yard line after a decent return from Isaiah Esdale, the Mountaineers seized a bit of momentum before the break with a couple of key throws from Doege resulting in a 25-yard field goal from Casey Legg to give WVU a 10-7 lead at the break.
Rattler hit on 26 of 36 passes for 256 yards and a score. The Sooners were held to 57 yards on the ground.