MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The coverage bust that buried West Virginia at Oklahoma—whereby Durron Neal coasted 71 yards behind a stunned secondary—was a communication glitch created by logistics, noise and the Sooners’ offensive tempo.
It’s also a scenario the Mountaineers practice daily.
“That’s something we’ve got to get better on, because that’s just not OK,” said senior safety KJ Dillon. “It’s not OK, period.”
Baker Mayfield’s third-quarter pass to Neal re-energized Oklahoma after a 17-point halftime lead was trimmed to three. The longest play surrendered by WVU since last year’s win at Maryland, it also loomed as the costliest error on a difficult afternoon for the team’s top cornerback Daryl Worley.
How it unfolded:
An instant before Oklahoma snapped the ball with three receivers split left, Dillon was relaying the Cover 3 call to Worley, who was positioned at far-side cornerback and matched up against wideout Dede Westbrook near the Sooners’ bench.
Responsible for the deep third on his side, Worley instead was coaxed toward the line of scrimmage as Mayfield pump-faked a screen pass to Westbrook. Dillon also bit on the fake, presuming Worley was taking the deep receiver. Neal squirted free for an easy catch-and-run score that sapped all the oxygen from West Virginia’s comeback.
“I don’t know what happened there,” said Dillon, recounting the presnap signaling made frantic as OU went no-huddle following a first-down pickup by Samaje Perine. “I gave (Worley) the call, but it was 83,000 people there. It’s loud. We’re on their sideline, we’ve got their coaches yelling at us, and their players are yelling too.
“It’s the same thing that happened against TCU last year. A miscommunication can kill a whole game.”
Dillon partially blamed himself for not gesturing the coverage call more emphatically: “It might have been my mistake for trying to talk to him when it was loud.” But with each defensive player taught to seek out the call—as opposed to waiting for one to reach him—the onus was on Worley to know his job.
While Worley was unavailable for interviews Tuesday and thus, didn’t share his perspective on the play, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell called it “a moment of weakness” amplified by the Sooners going hurry-up.
“Being that far corner, you get the call late and you don’t get to process it as fast as other guys,” Mitchell said. “But we practice that everyday. That’s not an excuse. We see it from our offense everyday.”
Aside from the series that produced Neal’s back-breaking touchdown, Oklahoma produced only 36 yards in the second half.
“On that series they were backed up, but they did a good job attacking us,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “They got us.”
Not counting the miscommunication, Worley was targeted in man coverage seven times—and each pass was either caught or dropped. At the end of one 18-yard completion, Worley recovered to strip Westbrook and force one of WVU’s two takeaways. Yet the advantage clearly belonged to Westbrook, a top junior college transfer WVU also pursued. He racked up 107 yards on five catches, including a tightly contested 42-yard post route on which Worley was called for pass interference.
“I have no idea how that guy caught that ball,” Mitchell said. “No idea whatsoever. Daryl was right there.”
During four seasons playing cornerback at BYU and three in the NFL, Mitchell experienced the vacillating nature of the position. Though Worley typically doesn’t lack for confidence—he’s a long-armed, 6-2 corner with designs on his own NFL career—his coach made sure to emphasize that the Oklahoma loss wasn’t reflective of past or future performances.
“A healthy Daryl Worley, a smart Daryl Worley, a heady Daryl Worley is going to benefit the defense,” Mitchell said. “He knows he’s got a target on his back, and to get it off he’s got to make plays.”