MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A deeper look inside a handful of plays that proved decisive in West Virginia’s 50-49 loss to Oklahoma:
1. On the game’s first drive, Landry Jones overcomes third-and-15 to hit Kenny Stills for 16 yards.
A false start on third-and-10 backed the Sooners into a low-percentage scenario, but Jones — as he would do most of the night — kept the drive alive with a clutch throw. The senior rolled right, away from pressure, and found Stills coming free on a deep in-route. The result was a first down at the OU 48-yard line.
Two snaps along, Jones converted another third-down play on a 25-yard sideline throw to Brennan Clay that eventually led to a 7-0 lead.
Oklahoma, which entered the game No. 6 nationally with a 52-percent success rate on third downs, converted 9-of-15 against the Mountaineers.
“To get them to third down is your goal, and now you’ve go to get off the field,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “We tried everything.”
2. Tavon Austin reignites WVU by ripping off a 74-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter.
Trailing 31-17 coming out of the half, West Virginia appeared in danger of getting steamrolled — a la the Texas Tech and K-State blowouts. The mood changed, however, when Austin jetted through a huge hole between left tackle Quinton Spain and guard Josh Jenkins.
Spain may have gotten away with a slight hold on blitzing cornerback Aaron Colvin (which helped spring Austin), but the blocking was clean downfield where Ryan Nehlen tied up free safety Tony Jefferson. The 74-yarder, WVU’s longest run since the Rutgers game of 2011, was a big chunk of Austin’s 264 second-half rushing yards, and his 344 total represented a WVU single-game rushing record. (The previous mark of 337 yards belonged to Kay-Jay Harris in 2004 against East Carolina.)
“It was maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops. “I’ve never seen a guy that fast, that quick and as elusive in space like that.”
3. Down 38-36 early in the fourth quarter, Smith’s 2-point pass goes off the fingertips of a diving Stedman Bailey.
After Bailey scored on a 4-yard inside pass, WVU tried to make up for Tyler Bitancurt’s previous extra-point miss. Though more than 11 minutes remained, Holgorsen insisted the 2-point try was the correct decision “by the book.”
Smith, despite working with a narrow window, fired an accurate low-and-outside pass that barely eluded the defensive back before glancing off Bailey’s hands.
“We had a great throw, (but) Stedman dropped the ball,” Holgorsen said. “Stedman had 13 catches for 205 and four TDs, but he dropped that one in the end zone. He’s got to make that play.”
The junior receiver agreed with Holgorsen, though the cornerback made the angle difficult by running underneath the out route.
“It kind of looked like (the cornerback’s) hands might have got in the way, but I still expect myself to catch those,” Bailey said. “It’s no excuses on that — I’ve got to have that. That one just slipped off my fingertips.”
4. Isaiah Bruce can’t hang on to an interception with West Virginia leading 43-38 in the final seven minutes.
If linebackers had hands they’d be tight ends, right? So it goes for Bruce, the redshirt freshman Sam linebacker who leads WVU in tackles but has struggled much of the season in pass coverage.
This time, Bruce made a good drop and perfectly anticipated Landry’s deep-middle throw toward receiver Jalen Saunders. Bruce broke on the pass and momentarily cradled it at around the WVU 30-yard line only to drop the interception when fellow linebacker Terence Garvin flashed by.
Five plays later, OU scored on Landry’s 7-yard pass to Stills and regained a 44-43 lead.
“We try to create three turnovers a game. We got two, and we should have had some more,” DeForest said. “But our kids fought their tails off. They believed we were going to win the game, and they fought and played that way.”
5. Jones audibles on fourth down, then finds Stills for the go-ahead touchdown with 24 seconds left.
Oklahoma offensive players said the fourth-and-3 call from the 5-yard line was designed to go to the right side — at least until Jones noticed Stills on the left matched up against Ishmael Banks. Stills had beaten WVU’s sophomore cornerback twice on earlier touchdowns of 4 and 11 yards, and Jones liked his chances here, so he checked into a new play.
Banks lined up at his 1 and backpedaled only a couple steps, affording Stills just enough room to slice inside and catch the game-winner at the goal line. Jones finished 4-of-4 for 57 yards on the decisive drive, part of an Oklahoma-record 554 passing yards.
“It was great to see Landry audible out to him when he had to,” Stoops said. “Kenny ran a great route and fought his way to get the inside position. Those are tough catches when people are hanging on you.”