MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It remains to be seen what exactly, if anything, West Virginia’s 23-20 victory against Oklahoma on Saturday amounts to.
But after Casey Legg’s 25-yard field goal split the uprights as time expired to give the Mountaineers their first win over the Sooners as a member of the Big 12 Conference, it’s clear West Virginia still feels it has plenty to play for down the stretch of what’s largely been a disappointing 2022 season.
“That was kind of our talking point all week that there’s not very many opportunities late in the season to be able to do something for the first time, and I’m proud of the staff and players for getting that done,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We owed them. We felt like we outplayed them last year and to lose that game in that fashion, to turn it around today and get it done on a field goal in the last seconds was rewarding.”
Legg’s field goal was his second game-winner this season and put the finishing touches on a 15 play, 65-yard drive that featured a fourth-down conversion and the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5) using all 6:24 that remained on the fourth-quarter clock.
Facing fourth-and-3 from the Sooners’ 39 with 2:25 remaining, Garrett Greene found Bryce Ford-Wheaton on a 5-yard pass to move the sticks.
“Bryce is 220. He’s a huge guy,” Greene said. “If you get the ball to him, he’s falling forward for 3 yards no matter what. I was confident in our guys and our line. The offensive line did a great job today. They were mauling guys up front.”
Greene was the quarterback for part of the second quarter and all of the second half and came through in a big way, particularly on the final series.
After the fourth down pass, Greene rushed for two first downs, including a 7-yard gain on third-and-6 that ensured the Sooners wouldn’t get the ball back in regulation.
Two plays later, Legg knocked home the field goal.
“I knew they had no timeouts left, which was helpful,” Legg said. “I knew I wouldn’t be delayed. The nerves really were not bad today, which I was thankful for.”
West Virginia’s winning drive was preceded by Zach Schmit missing a 46-yard field goal that fell into the end zone after hitting the right upright.
Greene took over for a struggling JT Daniels at quarterback to start West Virginia’s fourth series. The contest was scoreless at that point, and though the Mountaineers picked up three first downs on the possession, it ended with them punting from the Sooners’ 46.
“My thought process is always to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Greene said.
Oklahoma (5-5, 2-5) then put together the game’s first scoring drive on its fifth series, though it had to settle for Schmit’s 32-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead 9:42 before halftime.
Daniels was back in on West Virginia’s next series and the Mountaineers got inside the OU 30, but Woodi Washington forced tailback Justin Johnson to fumble, and the Sooners’ Jordan Kelley recovered it.
West Virginia forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing series and gave Daniels another series, but it ended with a 35-yard punt from Oliver Straw that was downed on the Sooners’ 4.
Oklahoma immediately marched 96 yards in four plays, with a 67-yard pass from Gabriel to Marvin Mims coming one play before Eric Gray’s 12-yard TD run that left the Sooners with a 10-0 lead and 1:06 on the second-quarter clock.
Sam James’ 42-yard return on the ensuing kickoff enabled the Mountaineers to operate from their 47 with just inside 1 minute to play in the half.
Greene found Kaden Prather on a 15-yard pass and then rushed for 33 and 5 yards on successive plays, the latter of which gave West Virginia its first touchdown.
However, holder Kolton McGhee couldn’t handle the snap on the point-after try, allowing the Sooners’ Billy Bowman to recover the loose football and race 88 yards for 2 points and a 12-6 Oklahoma lead at halftime.
“We gave him some more snaps during the week, because I thought we played pretty well last week,” Brown said of Greene. “If we were going to win the game, the only way was to control the clock and running the football. They started pressuring us early with edge pressure and a running quarterback is a much better answer for that than some other things. The weather played a factor in that, too.”
OU forced the Greene-led Mountaineers into a three-and-out on their opening second-half series and looked to be on the verge of adding to its lead when facing a third-and-2 from the WVU 36. But Jovante Barnes was stopped for a 1-yard loss, and on fourth-and-3, Gabriel’s was broken up by Exree Loe and fell incomplete.
West Virginia then put together a second touchdown drive that was greatly aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty on R Mason Thomas, negating what would’ve been a 12-yard loss on a sack and third-and-22.
After six consecutive runs and an incomplete pass, the Mountaineers faced third-and-goal from the OU 8. Greene lofted a pass to Ford-Wheaton, who won in 1-on-1 coverage to haul in the touchdown. Legg’s extra point gave West Virginia its first lead at 13-12 with 3:36 left in the third.
“Getting into a rhythm as a quarterback is huge,” Greene said.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as the Sooners immediately marched 59 yards in seven plays and went back on top on Gray’s 5-yard TD run. Gabriel crossed the goal line on a run that gave OU a successful 2-point conversion and a 20-13 lead with 1:22 to play in the third quarter.
After falling behind by seven, it looked as though the Mountaineers would give the ball right to Oklahoma when faced with a fourth-and-4 from their 34-yard line.
But Brown made a gutsy call in electing for a fake punt and it paid off in the form of Sam James’ 5-yard run for a first down on the second-to-last play of the third quarter.
“We really wanted to do it against Iowa State,” Brown said. “It was such a back and forth game and we had some weird field positions at Iowa State. That’s one we carried for a couple weeks. If we punt it back to them, they had momentum. I felt like we needed a play and the guys executed it. We didn’t have a great look on that play, but once you call it, you have to go for it.”
West Virginia approached the red zone early in the fourth quarter, but a loss of 8 yards on third-and-7 created fourth-and-15. However, the Sooners jumped offside to make the fourth down more manageable, and the Mountaineers capitalized when Greene connected with Prather for 15 yards.
Two plays later, Greene’s 11-yard TD run enabled WVU to tie it at 20 with 11:20 to play.
In the most extensive action of his career, Greene rushed 14 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 12-of-22 passes for 138 yards and a score, though Brown stopped short of naming him the starter next Saturday against Kansas State.
“I’m probably going to make that sometime this week,” said Brown, who hinted it may not come publicly. “We’re not going to make it today.”
West Virginia finished with 406 total yards — 203 passing and 203 rushing.
“We ran it 53 times to get that, so we weren’t super explosive by any means,” Brown said, “but that enabled us to control the clock and keep our defense off the field. The last drive was a toughness drive and we’re able to walk off with the win.”
James had 90 receiving yards on three grabs.
Gray rushed for a game-high 211 yards on 25 attempts.
The Sooners finished with 426 yards, but converted only 1-of-11 third downs and failed on both fourth down tries.
Jasir Cox led WVU with 12 tackles, while Sean Martin had two sacks in the win.
“[Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley] wanted us to be aggressive and a lot of teams think we’re real passive,” Cox said. “We wanted to change the narrative and do what we were supposed to do. Whether it was blitzing or press man, we wanted to lock into those tangibles.”