Oklahoma State took advantage of WVU’s problems -- things Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen repeatedly referred to as “junior high mistakes” -- and pulled away late for a 55-34 win at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“We can’t make very, very, very simple mistakes,” he said. “We made junior high mistakes. When you make junior high mistakes, you’re not going to win very many games.”
The Mountaineers continued to find life in the Big 12 difficult, losing for the fourth consecutive outing. It is the first time the program has dropped four games in a row since 2001, Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Morgantown which ended with a 3-8 record. It is the first time in history that WVU has lost four consecutive conference games.
If West Virginia (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) hopes to avoid being the first Mountaineer team since that one to fail to reach a bowl game, it will have to win one of its last three games: vs. Oklahoma next Saturday, at Iowa State or vs. Kansas.
Offensive Player of the Game
Multiple players said afterward that their goal now is simply to achieve bowl eligibility.
It’s a position that would have been almost unthinkable in early October, as WVU was 5-0 and in the nation’s top five after a win at Texas. But that Oct. 6 game was the last time the Mountaineers have won. Three of the losses -- to Texas Tech, Kansas State and now Oklahoma State -- have been by more than 20 points.
This one, though, was different than the blowout defeats to the Red Raiders and Wildcats. West Virginia repeatedly rallied within one possession but could never completely get over the hump, as miscues in multiple phases of play killed the Mountaineers’ momentum.
That pattern emerged early. Facing a fourth-and-14 at Oklahoma State’s 37-yard line with his team already behind 14-0 in the second quarter, Holgorsen kept his offense on the field -- despite the fact QB Geno Smith could not play on the snap because his helmet came off on third down. Backup Paul Millard came in and tossed a 37-yard touchdown to Stedman Bailey, though, to get back within 14-7.
Immediately, OSU answered. In one of several back-breaking special teams breakdowns, WVU’s kickoff coverage team allowed Justin Gilbert to return the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-7.
“I thought out special teams was the difference,” said Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy. “Their offense made plays and our offense made plays, but special teams gave us the advantage.”
It happened in the second half as well. West Virginia started the third quarter about as well as possible, forcing a three-and-out on defense and taking the ball 88 yards in only three plays for a touchdown -- a Smith pass to receiver Ryan Nehlen.
Defensive Player of the Game
4 total tackles
42-yard INT return
It appeared the momentum would continue as the defense forced another punt. But the the ball took a hard hop back towards the middle of the field, hitting WVU return man Tavon Austin. Oklahoma State recovered the live ball, and Clint Chelf hit Charlie Moore for a 5-yard touchdown pass to build the lead back to 38-24.
“Making mistakes at home in the Big 12 is going to hurt you enough, but making mistakes on the road in the Big 12 is worse,” Holgorsen said. “It’s tough enough to win Big 12 games at home, so we have to learn to not make mistakes on the road.”
West Virginia would rally back within 38-34, and had possession with a chance to tie at 41-34. But it failed to convert, and the Cowboys scored on their ensuing possession, all but sealing the outcome.
The Mountaineers actually outgained Oklahoma State (6-3, 4-2 Big 12), finishing with 479 total yards to the Cowboys’ 443. But the hosts needed only 66 plays to tally their total, while WVU needed 91.
For the fourth consecutive game, West Virginia may have yielded enough statistically to allow an opponent to claim Big 12 offensive player of the week honors. OSU WR Josh Stewart finished with 13 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He added another 46 yards and a touchdown rushing, taking an end around for score in the first half.
Chelf, who started the season as Oklahoma State’s third-string quarterback, completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
For WVU, Smith completed 36 of 54 passes for 364 yards and two scores. His favorite target was receiver Stedman Bailey, who had his best outing in more than a month, finishing with 225 receiving yards and a touchdown on 14 grabs.
Things get no easier for West Virginia, which returns to Morgantown to face No. 14 Oklahoma on Saturday. A loss would extend WVU’s losing streak to five games, the program’s first slump of that length since 1986, when a Don Nehlen-led team that ultimately finished 4-7 dropped six games in a row.