The West Virginia Mountaineers suffered their first loss of the 2015 season in Norman, Oklahoma. The loss was a harsh reality check for a team that had just started to dream of Big 12 championships but while there were negatives, there were bright spots as well. This senior class can still have a special season but there has to be better (and more complete) play next weekend against Oklahoma State next weekend or it could be a long October.
As with any loss, there is a little more bad to talk about right now. Let's start with the most obvious...quarterback play. Football is a team sport and I don't want to sound like I am placing all of the blame on Skyler Howard, but he had a rough game.
Skyler completed just 53% of his passes and tossed three interceptions (not to mention the two lost fumbles). He finished the game with an adjusted QBR of 40.1 after a 90.1 rating versus Maryland the week before. His accuracy was off on a couple wide open receivers, including a 3rd down early in the game that could have been a huge conversion. Skyler struggled to find holes in the coverage and while the Sooners were playing great defense, there was a few plays when he just didn't see an open man. He looked a little rattled throughout the day and just was never really able to find a good rhythm.
In his defense, Howard was hit early and often; Eric Striker was a terror throughout the game. Striker was huge for Oklahoma against Tennessee and is an emotional leader on their defense, a Sooner version of Karl Joseph. Striker was a huge contributor to an Oklahoma edge rush that caused some costly turnovers. The late fumble that resulted in a touchdown was more on Wellman for missing the block on Striker, but the ball needs to come out a little quicker when you know Eric Striker has been in the backfield most of the day.
It was turnovers that mostly doomed a Mountaineer squad who had won the turnover battle in their first three outings but the secondary also cost the squad dearly with more than a couple blown coverages. Baker Mayfield was consistently finding holes in the zone and a talented Sooners wide receiver corp challenged the corners and safeties in man.
The defense played well on 3rd and 4th downs and the Sooners running game was largely bottled up. The defensive scheme was working fairly well all in all with one glaring problem: the secondary gave up way too many big plays. Mayfield's completion percentage wasn't amazing but he averaged over 10 yards a pass and three of his receivers averaged over twenty yards a completion. It's hard to win football games when the other team puts up numbers like that.
Oh and one more quick note, Karl Joseph is still incredible. What an individual performance despite the overall play of the secondary. Thanks again replay.for sharing this gem of a
The Mountaineers' run game. Who would have thought Shell and Smallwood would completely outplay a very talented group of Sooner backs. The Mountaineers won the time of possession and out-rushed the Sooners by about 100 yards. Half of the balanced attack showed up; it was just too hard to outscore the Sooners without the passing game.
The offensive line deserves some praise as well. It was an up and down day for them but the front five did a great in the run game. They were road-grading out there and got some great push up front. The pass protection was obviously not there on some key plays (especially late in the game), but the Sooner pass rush is probably the best that unit will see all season. Kyle Bosch and Yodny Cajuste have both progressed and really help to solidify the line. Cajuste was beat by Striker a couple times, but he held his own quite a few times as well. And Bosch is just a big ugly that played mean all day. Not to mention him and Lucas did a great job selling a run up the middle on 4th when Howard busted lose for a 50 yard rush.
What This Means Going Forward
At the end of the day, the Mountaineers got outplayed by a team that could end up being very good. The Sooners were better on Saturday and they had a huge turn out; Norman was rocking. It was good to see the run defense hold up as that is what caused the blowout last year and the rush offense looked solid as well. The game was a little closer than the score would indicate but on both sides of the ball, the passing game hurt WVU. There were just too many turnovers and big plays against.
The season is far from over and the Mountaineers have three more chances to prove themselves this October. The home game against Oklahoma State is a huge opportunity to re-discover some momentum and it should be the easiest test of the three. They are going to be a tough test regardless, but the Cowboys haven't looked invincible in their last two games. If the Mountaineers can come back and get their first conference win next week, it would secure WVU's place in the top four teams of the Big 12 and likely earn back a spot in the top 25 polls. A loss early in the season to a good team on the road will be distant memory soon if this squad can turn in a couple wins this month.