By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
“Silly, junior high mistakes,” that’s what West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen called them.
Over and over, from the game’s second play until Oklahoma State walked off their home field in Stillwater, Okla., with a 55-34, victory over the free-falling West Virginia Mountaineers, mistakes plagued WVU.
The fourth straight loss, the longest losing streak since Rich Rodriguez’s debut season at WVU in 2001, was clearly the worst because they simply gift-wrapped it and gave it to the Cowboys.
It wasn’t West Virginia didn’t make some wonderful plays. Wide receiver Stedman Bailey regained his health and his status among the nation’s premier receivers with a school-record tying 14 catches for 225 yards, including one of 75 yards and another for a touchdown.
Quarterback Geno Smith completed 36 passes for 364 yards and a couple of touchdowns, one of the completions being thrown to seldom used wide receiver Conner Arlia with the season’s most spectacular catch, and one of the touchdowns being to senior wide receiver Ryan Nehlen, who was a game captain and who will definitely be seeing more action as this year winds down.
Yeah, there were some wonderful plays … a whole lot more knucklehead plays, most of them on special teams which presented the Cowboys with 17 points they didn’t earn.
“You can’t make very simple, junior high mistakes, and be a very good football team,” Holgorsen said as he opened his postgame interview session.
As noted previously, it started on the game’s second play when Smith and running back Andrew Buie missed the most simple of handoffs. That was like pushing the start button on a video game, for the rest of day the Mountaineers were doing things that defied belief.
In fact, Smith and Buie weren’t even through, for later in the game on a handoff they got their legs tangled with Buie falling to the ground for a loss. Somehow the statisticians missed that, for Smith was never credited with a tackle for a loss.
Over and over it went.
There were mixups on pass patterns, there were penalties and then there were those special team mistakes.
Now everyone knows that for most of this year the special teams units were laughable, but they seemed to be putting it together recently. True, in this game there were facing a special punter and placekicker in Quinn Sharp and special return man in Justin Gilbert, but they got a lot of help from WVU.
“Some of the issues we had were flat-out unacceptable," Holgorsen said. “I don’t know how to coach that when the ball comes to you, you get it and return it. If the ball hits the ground on a punt, everyone in the country, starting in junior high, goes, ‘Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter,’ and gets away from the ball.”
Such a ball came to Tavon Austin, and sure enough he hollered “Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter” while waving for everyone to get away from the ball. The only mistake he made was not getting away himself, the ball bouncing into him for a fumble.
“I can’t explain that. I have no answers for that. The special teams flat-out gave them 17 points. That was probably the biggest difference in the game," Holgorsen said.
That, of course, wasn’t all.
The absolutely worst special teams mistake came early. Trailing 14-0 and facing a fourth an 13 with Geno Smith having to leave the game because he had just lost his helmet, Paul Millard came cold off the bench and threw a perfect touchdown pass to Bailey to make it 14-7 and get the Mountaineer juices flowing.
Unfortunately, they had to kick off and Gilbert fielded it at his 4, started off slowly, got a block and burst through a hole 96 yards to a touchdown, negating the emotion of Millard’s heroics.
That was not the only kickoff problems to crop up. There was a bouncing kickoff from Sharp that actually bounced off Buie’s neck and went to Oklahoma State. Naturally, the soon scored.
Next came a perfect punt by Tyler Bitancurt, who has a wonderful day kicking and punting, that bounced at the OSU 5, with four Mountaineers’ standing around it … then bounced again at the 1 and again in the end zone.
And there was another bouncing kickoff that Austin couldn’t handle, having to recover it himself inside his own 10.
“Silly, junior high mistakes”, that’s what they were.
Still, somehow, West Virginia hung around in the game and actually, after Terrence Garvin intercepted a pass and ran it back to the Oklahoma State 1, setting up a quarterback sneak by Geno Smith for the touchdown, WVU had cut into an OSY lead that three times had been 14 points and narrowed it to four, 38-34.
This was when quarterback Clint Chelf took control of the game. A third-string quarterback making his first career start after having fallen behind two freshmen on the depth chart, Chelf looked like Peyton Manning at times as he completed 22 of 31 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns.
The second TD came in the fourth quarter for 26 yards to Josh Stewart, who had a miraculous game himself, to make the score 48-34 with 12:05 left.
Stewart’s game included 13 catches for 172 yards and two scores and one rush on a double-reverse for a 46-yard touchdown, giving him 218 all-purpose yards in the game.
NOTES: WR Tavon Austin caught 11 passes and has had only one game in which he did not catch 10 or more. He also was used in the running game more than usual with 5 carries but accounted for only 15 yards there. … WVU has now given up a school record 373 yards, breaking the mark of 364 given up in 1978. … When Dana Holgorsen took over as coach WVU had lost only two games since 2000 in which it has scored 30 or more points. It has now lost back-to-back games in which it gave 30 or more and also the Louisville game last year. … Wide receiver Ivan McCartney did not accompany the team to Oklahoma and Holgorsen refused to give a reason why.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.