West Virginia Football: Winners and Losers from Week 12 Loss to Oklahoma
Another week brought another heartbreaking loss for West Virginia.
The Mountaineers had No. 12 Oklahoma on the ropes in Morgantown, holding a lead with less than a minute to go, but OU quarterback Landry Jones capped off the game-winning drive with a touchdown strike to Kenny Stills that stymied the WVU upset hopes.
The loss put West Virginia on its first five-game losing streak since 1986, as the Mountaineers have now been on a winning and losing streak of five games this season.
In the 50-49 loss, Tavon Austin had a career day, rushing for more than 300 yards, while Stedman Bailey hauled in four touchdown receptions.
However, despite their best efforts, defensive deficiencies and one enormous special teams mistake resulted in a losing effort for WVU.
Here are the winners and losers from Saturday night's shootout at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Winner: Tavon Austin
Where would West Virginia be without Tavon Austin?
He has been WVU's most consistent player all season long, and had one of the best individual performances in NCAA history against Oklahoma.
The regular inside receiver was slotted at running back to help the struggling Mountaineer ground game, and 344 yards later, he did a lot more than help.
On top of runs of 31, 47, 54, 56 and 74 yards, the senior also nabbed four receptions for 82 yards.
His 572 yards of total offense were a Big 12 Conference record and were just six yards shy of the national record of 578 set by Emmett White of Utah State set in 2000 against New Mexico State.
If it weren't for the Mountaineers' 5-5 record, Austin would be right in the thick of the Heisman Trophy conversation.
He certainly had his share of touches on Saturday, but there is still one big question: Why wasn't Austin given a shot out of the backfield sooner?
Loser: Time Management
West Virginia entered its final drive with less than 30 seconds and zero timeouts to work with—and as a result, almost zero chance of completing the comeback.
All three of WVU's second-half timeouts were pretty well wasted, including two on two-point conversion attempts and one on an Oklahoma punt.
Also, WVU had an excellent opportunity to salt the game away with less than three minutes remaining on the clock.
Tavon Austin broke a 47-yard run to start the drive with the Mountaineers down 44-43, already putting them just outside of scoring position.
Instead of trying to kill the clock, they took a shot down field to Stedman Bailey for a 40-yard touchdown, giving OU nearly three minutes with which to score.
It's tough to argue against putting points on the board, but the way the Sooners had been moving the ball on the WVU defense, three minutes is too much time to give to a senior quarterback to win the game—especially when all three of a team's timeouts have been spent.
Winner: WVU Offensive Staff
West Virginia had one of its best offensive games of the year against one of the strongest defenses on its schedule.
The Oklahoma pass defense had allowed just three passing touchdowns all season long, and Geno Smith threw four on Saturday.
Overall it was a very well-called game, aside from failed two-point conversion attempts and one dud on a fourth-down run call.
Otherwise, WVU had by far its best game of the season on the ground, tallying 458 yards thanks to the brilliant but obvious decision to just give the ball to Tavon Austin as often as possible.
With No. 1 in the backfield, the Mountaineers averaged an unbelievable 9.7 yards per carry.
In the air, Smith looked much more like his former self, particularly through WVU's five second-half touchdown drives.
The total result: 778 yards of total offense—the second-highest total in school history, behind only the 807 yards notched against Baylor earlier this year.
Loser: West Virginia University
The atmosphere was electric on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, and major kudos should go to the 50,000-plus WVU fans who came out to support the Mountaineers in the wake of a disappointing four-game losing streak.
However, regardless of how impressive the atmosphere was, it could have been better.
Unfortunately, West Virginia University decided to boot the students out of the dorms earlier in the week, leaving the student section bare.
Thanksgiving break began this week, but the students should have been given the option to stay over the weekend with the No. 12 team in the country in town.
They weren't, though, so as many as 8,000 voices were left unheard on Saturday—not the greatest decision by WVU.
Winner: Stedman Bailey
Hampered by injury in previous weeks, it is now safe to say that Stedman Bailey is back at full health.
He had his second straight huge performance, topping 200 yards receiving in each of the last two weeks.
This week, the junior totaled 205 yards and four touchdowns—giving him 1,260 yards and an NCAA-leading 20 touchdowns on the season.
Against OU, his touchdowns came from four, eight, 33 and 40 yards.
He now has a WVU-record 36 career receiving touchdowns, while Tavon Austin is No. 2 with 28.
All of this came against an Oklahoma pass defense that was ranked No. 8 in the nation entering the game.
Loser: Tyler Bitancurt
Defensive deficiencies aside, West Virginia's one-point loss to Oklahoma ultimately came because of a missed extra point.
Senior Tyler Bitancurt shanked a PAT attempt after a Tavon Austin touchdown run in the third quarter, setting the stage for the one-point loss.
WVU's next touchdown would have made it a tie ballgame, but after the missed two-point conversion, the Mountaineers were still down by two.
From then on, the teams traded touchdowns and failed conversion attempts.
If Bitancurt would have hit that extra point, the game likely would have been 52-52 at the end of regulation.
Instead, that one-point PAT from 19 yards out cost the Mountaineers lost their fifth straight game.
Winners: WVU Run Defense
West Virginia stepped up against the run on Saturday night.
OU wasn't able to establish a consistent ground game against WVU, as Sooner starting running back Damien Williams was held under 100 yards with just five runs of more than five yards and two more than 10.
Running quarterback Blake Bell was non-factor in the game. The 6'6", 254-pound sophomore had just one rush of more than three yards, while as a team, the Sooners averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
The lone blunder by WVU against the run was a 48-yard touchdown dash by Williams in the second quarter.
The overall strength against the run allowed the Mountaineers to drop more players back in coverage, but that still didn't seem to help all that much.
Losers: WVU Pass Rush/Secondary
West Virginia has continued to shuffle players around its secondary, with redshirt freshman Terrell Chestnut being the newest addition to the starting defensive backfield.
Chestnut and others were actually in solid position at times, but Landry Jones and the talented Oklahoma receiving corps still had a huge day.
Five Sooner receivers had more than 70 yards receiving, while Jones tallied 554 yards passing and six touchdowns, including four to his go-to target Kenny Stills.
The senior had all day back in the pocket to throw, as WVU didn't generate a consistent pass rush.
That, coupled with soft coverage against short routes, allowed Jones to rip apart the Mountaineer secondary.
The OU signal-caller's lone interception came as a result of pressure, and so did a bundle of his incompletions. However, West Virginia just didn't keep the pressure on him often enough.
In the end, the WVU pass defense had a chance to make up for a game full of mistakes, as Oklahoma was faced with a fourth down with three yards to go at the WVU five-yard line.
However, Stills had inside release on one final slant route with less than 30 seconds on the clock, which crushed the Mountaineer upset bid.