STILLWATER, Okla. – At the time it happened, one of the most momentous plays of West Virginia’s 45-41 loss didn’t feel all that significant.
Rolling out on a third-and-1 read-option keeper, Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier was stopped well short of a first down by Oklahoma State safety Malcolm Rodriguez.
West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital thought the play would be available for an easy first-down run or pass against Oklahoma State’s aggressive defensive ends, but the Cowboys had it diagnosed well.
“They played it a little different than what they showed,” Spavital said. “It was something that we were confident in that we could isolate [tight end Trevon] Wesco. But they ended up trailing the safety behind to make a play on Will.”
It seemed like minor bummer, but the Mountaineers were still poised to increase their lead to 13 points with a short Evan Staley field goal. Staley never got the chance.
The ball had popped out of Grier’s grasp as he was wrestled to the ground, seemingly well after he was down. Grier was so unconcerned that he thought nothing of it. The officials ruled him down on the play.
“I thought I was down,” Grier said.
But after a lengthy review, the call was overturned. The replay booth had an angle that indicated Grier’s knee was actually on top of Rodriguez rather than the ground when the ball popped loose. The play was ruled a fumble, and the Cowboys had new life thanks to defensive end Brock Martin’s recovery.
“I don’t know how they overturned that. I didn’t see anything,” Grier said. “I was kind of on top of him, so it was a little weird going down to the ground. I was trying to push for the first down and thought I was down when the ball came out. But I’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Oklahoma State used the ensuing possession to change the tone of the game. Though the 14-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:40 off the clock only resulted in a field goal, it helped drain the West Virginia defense for when the Cowboys completed their comeback in the fourth quarter.
The extended time off the field also seemed to affect West Virginia’s offensive rhythm. The Mountaineers followed the fumble with three consecutive three-and-outs.
One of those three-and-outs resulted in a Staley field goal only because the Mountaineers started with possession in the red zone thanks to special teamer Josh Chandler recovering a muffed Oklahoma State punt at the Cowboys 18-yard line.
“I think we left probably 14 points out there in the red zone when you can’t punch it in,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “If you’re a great offense, you do that. I guess we’re not a great offense. It’s disappointing when we were down there as much as we did [to not score touchdowns].”