Column: O-for-Oklahoma pains seniors


NORMAN, Okla. — Welp, that Top 25 stay was brief.

Not so West Virginia’s run of unpleasantness against Oklahoma.

Saturday’s 44-24 defeat extended a four-year itch the Mountaineers seniors won’t get to scratch.

“It’s something we stressed all week as seniors, that we haven’t beaten them yet,” said linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. “And now we’re not going to.”

Karl Joseph owns a lifetime achievement award for horrifying hits vs. the Sooners, but alas, no wins. “It’s hard,” the safety said before climbing back on the team bus. “Going out there we knew it was our last chance against them.”

Admit it, fans: At first whisper of the Mountaineers joining the Big 12 your football brain conjured up games against the Sooners. (Yeah, Texas sprang up too, but partly because Austin is such a cool, weird trip. This trip to Norman gave us a bit of weirdness—honoring the ’85 Sooners with a wedge block—but the only thing cooling was West Virginia’s defensive rep.)

We presumed West Virginia wasn’t long for leading the country in scoring defense. The more reasonable mission was maintaining poise and minding assignments once they lined up across from receivers with hands better than Georgia Southern’s and a quarterback with a clue. Oklahoma featured both—not to mention a running back named Samaje Perine—and showed promptly that it wasn’t going to waste those tools.

Eight first-half plays gained 16 yards or more. Four of seven possessions resulted in points. Three touchdowns transpired without a defender in the same zip code.

At halftime, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson suppressed the urge to erupt: “I didn’t want to go into a rant at that point. My main thing was, ‘Guys, let’s go play West Virginia defense, because we’re not even close right now.’”

Credit Gibson with knowing his upperclassmen, who stoned the Sooners on the next four series. Yet a first half as poor as WVU played required near-perfection thereafter, and Gibson’s defense had one gollywapper of a slip remaining.

It surfaced on a fake screen when Baker Mayfield double-pumped the secondary out of its cleats to set up a 71-yard touchdown to Durron Neal. (The same Neal who tricked West Virginia on a throwback touchdown to Trevor Knight last year in Morgantown.)

Neal was giddy Saturday from the instant he noticed the play signal. Lincoln Riley had repped the route all week in hopes of entrapping West Virginia.

“On film, that’s what they normally do—jump everything,” Neal said. “We caught ‘em.”

Dana Holgorsen caught himself growing impatient with his own playcalls, even though a commitment to the running game fueled WVU’s third-quarter comeback from down 24-7 to within 27-24. Trying too hard to materialize downfield passing, Skyler Howard was intercepted four times (three of which stood) and pounded by seven sacks.

At least most of Holgorsen’s young offensive players will have additional chances to face Oklahoma in the coming years. Not so for the bulk of Gibson’s defense.

“I hate it for these seniors, how this Oklahoma series has turned out for them.” he said. “We have to bounce back and not let this one get us twice.”

Indeed, there’s another team from Oklahoma headed to campus next week. One the Mountaineers have solved.

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