Oklahoma Football: Winners and Losers from the Week 12 Game vs. West Virginia
If you still need time to decompress and simply breathe, you are not alone. The Sooners pulled off nothing less than an epic 50-49 triumph over the Mountaineers in Morgantown Saturday night. The win would not have been possible without Landry Jones and the offense's dazzling success.
On the other hand, the Sooner D left much to be desired, and its inability to even slow down West Virginia very nearly cost the team the game. Granted, WVU features one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, and Tavon Austin was the best football player in the world Saturday night.
As in any game, there were quality performances and subpar performances for the Sooners. Let's take a look at the winners and losers from the Sooners' clash with the Mountaineers.
Winner: Landry Jones
Landry Jones was truly masterful against the Mountaineers. Apart from an unfortunate interception late in the third quarter, his performance was virtually flawless. Leading the Sooner offense up and down the field time and time again, he finished with a school-record 554 passing yards and six touchdowns.
It wasn't the first time Jones guided his team to victory in a hostile environment (Oklahoma State in 2010, Florida State in 2011), but this one was the sweetest. After watching WVU tear up the Sooners once again and take a 49-44 lead with 2:53 remaining, the senior calmly drove his offense down the field for the final time, firing a precise missile to Kenny Stills for the go-ahead touchdown on fourth down.
Jones was poised and sharp the entire night. Thanks to a great performance from the offensive line (along with his receivers), he was able to deliver in countless situations. In a game that featured two offenses that simply couldn't be stopped, Jones' coolness under pressure played an integral role in his team's razor-thin triumph.
Loser: Rush Defense
This game featured one of the greatest performances in recent memory from Mountaineer wideout/tailback Tavon Austin. He rushed for an out-of-this-world 344 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns. Throw in his receiving and return numbers, and he ended up with a Big 12-record 572 all-purpose yards. Take some time to let that sink in.
Not to take anything away from Austin's insane performance, but the OU rush defense must take responsibility for a total failure to even slow down Austin. He averaged 16.4 yards per carry and was running up and down the field the entire night.
Players were out of position and missed numerous tackles, giving Austin opportunities downfield that should have been nipped in the bud. If the defensive line and linebackers had been able to at least slow down the WVU run game, the Sooners could have won this game by double digits. But Austin continuously sliced the OU defense, generating momentum and keeping the Mountaineers in the game.
Winner: Kenny Stills
Another player who played the game of his life is Kenny Stills. He caught the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) touchdown with 24 seconds left to cap a 10-catch, four-touchdown game.
As usually, Stills was Landry Jones' go-to guy, and without his contribution, the Sooners would not have been able to keep up with the West Virginia fireworks show.
Additionally, Stills' mere presence opened up opportunities for other receivers (Jalen Saunders, Justin Brown) to shine. His colleagues proved that if you devote too much attention to any specific player, other athletes will take advantage and make plays. Thus, Stills' importance as a decoy is immeasurable.
That was the story of the Sooner offense against the Mountaineers. Countless players stepped up in a group effort to escape an electric atmosphere with a hard-fought win.
Loser: Defensive Coaching Staff
Back to defense. The coaching staff must answer for this defensive failure. Despite West Virginia continuing to give the ball to Tavon Austin and watch him slice and dice his way down the field, the Sooners didn't adjust. Or if they did, it wasn't apparent.
Of course, coaches can't make tackles, and there was more than a fair share of missed tackles. But Mike Stoops and his assistants should have shown different looks and schemes to try to slow down Austin. The linebacking corps was glaringly absent, and Austin traversed the second and third levels of the defense like they were Midwestern plains.
I'm not saying I have a speck of the knowledge of defensive football that Mike Stoops and the Sooner coaches have, but I would have liked to see OU put more defenders in the box and focus on bottling Tavon Austin's electricity. Throughout the night, it seemed like Oklahoma vs. Tavon Austin.
Winner: Jalen Saunders
With the abundance of offensive firepower on display and video game performances from several players, it's easy to forget how solid Jalen Saunders was for the Sooners against West Virginia.
In only his sixth game in a crimson and cream uniform, the junior finished with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. His 76-yard score early in the second quarter, although buried in a heap of highlights, was critical in keeping separation and momentum from the Mountaineers.
Saunders, along with Justin Brown, served as crucial support for Kenny Stills, who, as much as he wanted to, couldn't do everything for the Sooners. Time and time again, the wideouts made impressive, tightly contested catches to sustain drives and keep the OU offensive juggernaut rolling at full steam.
In his short time as a Sooner, Saunders has shown tremendous potential. It's exciting to think about what he can do as he continues to progress and develop even greater chemistry with Landry Jones.
Loser: OU Pass Rush
OU's failure to pressure Geno Smith was also highly problematic. The D-line registered zero sacks (there were zero sacks from either team) and rarely was able to even disrupt Smith's rhythm. Of course, this is challenging to do to an agile quarterback who gets rid of the ball quickly, but pressuring the quarterback is crucial to beating good teams.
Besides its inability to stop Stedman Bailey, the Sooner pass defense actually performed fairly well, especially considering the lack of help from the line. Aaron Colvin and Javon Harris each had an interception, and there were examples of excellent man-to-man defense.
Hopefully, generating more pressure is an area Oklahoma focuses on in preparing for Oklahoma State. If you can't pressure the quarterback, you're going to have a hard time beating good teams.
Winner: Special Teams
At least we can say the Sooners didn't lose this game because of a missed field goal or big plays allowed on special teams. Unlike some other big games in recent years, this area was something to be proud of for the players and coaching staff.
The only blemish was a missed 37-yard field goal from Michael Hunnicutt before the half. Hunnicutt capitalized on his other field-goal attempt from 32 yards.
Tress Way did his part to pin the WVU offense deep in its own territory. Two of his three punts landed inside the 20-yard line.
Perhaps more notable was the Sooners' kickoff coverage. It seems the only thing Tavon Austin's performance was lacking as the game progressed was a kick return touchdown. Given the sheer dominance he had exhibited and the nature of the game, it would have been fitting to see him take one back. But OU contained him in this area; on eight returns, his longest run was only 26 yards.
The Sooners were impressive in kick returns as well. Brennan Clay's 46-yard return late in the game gave the offense good field position to begin its final, fateful drive.
Winner: Offensive Line
Oklahoma won this game because of its offense, and its offense succeeded because of the O-line. The men up front provided excellent protection for Landry Jones all night, enabling him to have his best game in a Sooner uniform. And the line deftly neutralized blitzing WVU defenders throughout the game; if it had not managed the pressure so well, Jones would have been forced into premature throws, and the offense probably would have turned the ball over several more times.
It may be clíché, but that's because it's true: An effective offensive line is imperative for a football team to succeed, at least offensively. Jones threw the ball 51 times against the Mountaineers, and not once was he sacked. That reflects how dominating center Gabe Ikard and Co. were for the entire game.
If Landry Jones gets this kind of protection, he will continue to shred defenses and put OU in position to win against every team it faces.