By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Despite a spine-tingling, record-shattering performance by Tavon Austin out of the running back spot that included a school-record 344 rushing yards and a Big 12 record in all-purpose yards of 572; despite 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns by wide receiver Stedman Bailey; despite 320 passing yards including those four TDs to Bailey from Geno Smith … despite it all, West Virginia wound up being West Virginia again.
That meant the Mountaineers continued their incredible, unbelievable slide from the No. 4 ranking in the country and dreams of a chance at winning the national championship by losing their fifth consecutive game, this one maybe the toughest to take of all of them, 50-49, to Oklahoma before a disappointing and disappointed crowd of 50,238 Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The loss once again could be — no, had to be — pinned on the defense, although a missed extra point by placekicker Tyler Bitancurt played a large role in the loss.
It was a game the Mountaineers (5-5 overall, 2-5 Big 12) trailed 31-17 at the half but roared back to seemingly take control of, twice scoring in the fourth quarter to lead 43-38 and 49-44 with just 2:41 left to play, but they could not stop Oklahoma’s quarterback Landry Jones.
Jones led a pair of touchdown drives, twice hitting receiver Kenny Stills with scoring passes, to win the game.
He finished with 38-of-51 passing for 554 yards and six touchdowns, four to Stills.
The result? WVU finished the game with 778 total yards … and another loss.
“They made one more play than we did,” said a distraught Dana Holgorsen. “The kids played hard. How many losses like this do we have to go through? I don’t know. We’ve got two games left. Hopefully, we can get back out there and get to work and try to come up with a couple of wins. It’s a tough loss, but we have to regroup.”
Holgorsen made a coaching move that should have won the game when he finally realized that he had to have a running game and the only way he could get it was to use Austin, the all-time leading prep rusher in Maryland history, and put him at running back.
“We haven’t been able to run the ball, so we had to do something,” Holgorsen said. “He is a tremendous football player and was the best player on the field. In hindsight, we should have done it before this.”
Certainly, Oklahoma wasn’t ready for it.
“Obviously, we weren’t ready for it. It did really mess us up what we were doing and how we needed to play. It’s something we’ll have to dissect tomorrow and see what our answers could be to
make improvement – we need to,” coach Bob Stoops said.
But Landry had what it took.
“He made great throws at important times and the receivers – again, I’m so pleased about them,” Stoops said.
Of course, it’s nothing new with WVU, which gives up as many passing yards and touchdowns as McDonald’s sells French fries.
The Mountaineers are last in the nation in pass defense and prove it every week.
This week there was some good for the defense, stopping the run, but it gave up 50 points again, the fourth time this year while also giving up 49 and 45 in two other games.
“OU made one more play than we did,” said defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “We were in position to win the game on defense. They made more plays than we did on the ball in the air. That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to get off the field on third down.”
It is true, but it is also a broken record.
The game came down to the fourth quarter, a spectacular final quarter that saw West Virginia score 19 points but give up 12, which was just enough to lose the game.
The shame was that quarterback Geno Smith, who had his struggles early, eventually found himself and threw three touchdown passes of 4, 8 and 40 yards to Bailey in that final period.
The last one, a Picasso of a pass and catch that covered 40 yards, put WVU up with 2:53 to go and needing only one stop.
First the special teams melted down and allowed the Sooners to return the kickoff 46 yards to the OU 46. Jones then completed a pass to Stills for six, one to Justin Brown for 36, another to Brown for 10, and capped it with a 5-yard throw to Stills for the winning score with 24 seconds left.
WVU tried to recover by a Hail Mary pass from Smith to Ryan Nehlen as time ran out, but it was incomplete.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @bhertzel.