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The Sober Mid-Week Stats Review: Taking a look at the numbers behind West Virginia’s heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma

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This really doesn’t make the sting any better

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since West Virginia joined the Big 12 conference in 2012, Oklahoma football has been the measuring stick for success. After Saturday’s loss in Norman, the Mountaineers are now 0-9 in conference play versus the Sooners. Some years the games have been close, like in 2012 with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin (49-50 loss) or 2018 with Will Grier (56-59 loss), but most years the Sooners punch early and often, putting the game away in the first half. While the result was no different, this team fought and showed that they have the ability to beat anyone in this league.

Saturday night left most of us disappointed. The Mountaineers had the Sooners on the ropes and had several opportunities to win the game but the self-inflicted wounds were too large. A false-start on the one yard line and a missed connection on the following play cost the Mountaineers four points. With 1st and 10 from the OU 30-yard line late in the 4th quarter of a tied game, a procedural penalty and a miscommunication on the snap left the Mountaineers in 3rd and 33, forcing a punt to start the Sooners eventual game winning drive. We’d all love another shot at a few plays in this game, but that’s the nature of football. Neal Brown said in his postgame that there were three or four opportunities to win the game, but you never know when those plays are going to be in the moment.

I think there are way more positives than negatives to come out of this loss. Yes, we took another lump from OU, something Mountaineer fans are tired of seeing, but Neal Brown and staff had this team competing with the program who has won the conference six consecutive times. Coming in as 17-point road underdogs, I’m excited about the way this team fought and gave themselves a chance. I think this game demonstrated where we are along the “climb,” and especially highlighted the dominant defense that the coaching staff has focused on building. It feels like we are just few a pieces away. Let’s dive into the numbers.

This game was a true defensive struggle. One thing that is crucial for the Mountaineer offense is getting on schedule on 1st down and keeping the playbook open for 2nd and 3rd downs. The Mountaineers averaged nearly 9 yards to go on their 14 3rd down attempts, but didn’t convert on any 3rd down longer than 6 yards. It’s no secret that throwing the ball downfield is not WVU’s strong suit, so 1st down success rate becomes really crucial for this offense to be productive.

Turnovers were an improvement in this game. It’s the first P5 game this year that WVU didn’t lose the turnover battle by at least two. Doege’s deep interception on 3rd and 14 was a calculated miss; best case you get a catch or interference, worst case you get an arm punt. The defense forcing their first P5 turnover was huge, but unfortunately the offense couldn’t capitalize on the good field position and momentum.

For years, the Sooner offense has been built on chunk runs and huge shots downfield. The stat that surprised me the most in this game is that Oklahoma had only 2 explosive plays out of a total of 63 plays. This seemed so anomalous that I loaded the play-by-play data for all the Oklahoma games in the Lincoln Riley era. Only twice since Riley was named head coach have the Sooners had less than 8 explosive offensive plays with their previous low being 4 explosive plays versus Baylor last year. The defense kept everything in front, made solid tackles, got tremendous pressure on Rattler, and bottled up a usually electric offense in a way that Lincoln Riley hasn’t experienced at OU.

When you play against high-powered offenses like Oklahoma usually has, you need lots of points. Field goals feel like points left on the board. Even though this became a defensive slugfest, it would have been huge to cash in those two fields goals for touchdowns. The first redzone field goal was largely due to lack of timeouts at the end of the first half. I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of calling plays and relaying that information to the offense, but three times in the first half the Mountaineer offense had to burn timeouts because the play was not in in time. Had the Eers had those timeouts on the final drive of the half, they would have atleast afforded a few endzone shots that could have netted them four more points for the drive, making a crucial difference in a game that was decided by only three.

The second redzone field goal, coming on the first drive of the second half, was a consequence of a false start on the one yard line and a missed pass over the middle of the endzone. Those points have been well discussed by others, but what I haven’t seen discussed as much is the decision to kick the field goal. The situation was this: 4th and goal from the 4-yard line, tie game in the middle of the 3rd quarter. I can see this decision both ways, but my initial gut feeling was to go for it. You either get six, or pin a somewhat stagnant offense inside the five yard line and ask your defense to keep winning the field position game. The 4th down bot gave a “medium” recommendation to go for it in this situation.

The last thing I want to mention is the performance difference between the first few drives and the rest of the game. Once again the Mountaineers had their best drive of the game at the very beginning. Neal Brown continues to script plays tremendously and get points on the board early. Unfortunately, the offense continues to stall in the second half. Not counting versus LIU, the Mountaineers have failed to score more than three points in the second half of any game.

The Mountaineers are back in action this week as Neal Brown looks to get his first win versus Texas Tech.