West Virginia had everything to play for Saturday night at No. 17 Oklahoma.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they put forth their worst showing of the season, failing to display an answer for the Sooners throughout a 59-20 loss at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium that marks West Virginia’s largest margin of defeat in five seasons with head coach Neal Brown.
“We didn’t coach good enough or execute good enough and that didn’t resemble anything that the 2023 Mountaineers have been,” Brown said. “To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement at the least. Quite frankly, I’m pissed and I’m embarrassed about what we put on tape tonight.”
The numbers were startling and staggering in the favor of the Sooners, who won 10 of 11 meetings with the Mountaineers while both were Big 12 members, including all six in Norman. Oklahoma is leaving to join the Southeastern Conference after this season.
Oklahoma (8-2, 5-2) scored at least two touchdowns and 14 points in all four quarters and quarterback Dillon Gabriel accounted for eight touchdowns — five through the air and three on the ground.
“Disappointed to say the least. Didn’t see that coming. We practiced well,” Brown said. “The last two years against Oklahoma, the score had been tied. That football in all three phases didn’t resemble anything that we put on tape this year. Credit Oklahoma. They beat us soundly. [OU head coach Brent Venables] had those guys ready to go after the two losses and the home crowd was into it. They played with a lot more energy and execution than we did.”
Still, it was the Mountaineers (6-4, 4-3) that scored on the game’s opening drive when running back CJ Donaldson bust into the end zone on a 13-yard run for West Virginia’s third straight touchdown on an opening drive.
The lead was short-lived and the Sooners pulled even at 7 only 2:33 after falling behind when Gabriel scored on a 2-yard run.
After a WVU punt, OU drove 65 yards on its second series and went in front for good on Gabriel’s second 2-yard TD run.
The Mountaineers got a break on their second punt, which deflected off Oklahoma’s Gavin Freeman and was recovered by West Virginia’s Jared Bartlett late in the opening quarter.
Yet after starting at the Sooners 33, WVU could gain only 3 yards, and Michael Hayes’ 48-yard field goal attempt was no good, marking Hayes’ second miss this season.
“That was disappointing. That was kind of the night in a nutshell,” Brown said. “They muffed the punt, we did a good job recovering it and then we have to kick a long field goal. Garrett’s played really well most of the year, but tonight wasn’t his best. The thing that irritates you is decision-making. I can deal with some errant throws but on that series in particular, we had a couple good plays and sometimes when you see too much, he didn’t see it very good. He’ll learn from it and get better. I didn’t do a good enough job of putting our guys in positions either.”
The Sooners were in complete control from there and gained a two-score lead on Zach Schmit’s 23-yard field goal on the fifth play of the second quarter.
Donaldson got stuffed for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 of the ensuing possession, and Brown elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the WVU 46, but Greene’s pass fell incomplete — a theme throughout the night in a game where the Mountaineers’ quarterback finished 10 for 27.
“They did a good job adjusting to what we were doing on offense after the first drive,” Greene said. “They started giving us some really complicated looks. That’s what their defense does well is give you a lot look at and I started to see too much.”
OU capitalized on the short field and went 46 yards in nine plays to take a 24-7 lead on Gabriel’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Austin Stogner.
WVU’s defense continued to offer no resistance and the Sooners scored their fourth touchdown on Gabriel’s 32-yard pass to Jayden Gipson 6:20 before halftime. Earlier on the drive, Gabriel had completed passes of 23 yards to Drake Stoops and 26 yards to Jalil Farooq.
After falling behind 31-7, WVU appeared as though it would draw closer on its next series, but Greene was ruled 1 yard short of the end zone on a first-and-goal run from the 3.
Greene then attempted a quarterback sneak on the next play but was ruled short of the goal line again.
On third down, Donaldson was stopped at the line of scrimmage, and on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Greene’s shovel pass was completed to Donaldson, but was stopped short of the end zone.
“I thought we got in on first down on the goal line and got in on second down,” Brown said. “That’s not a knock on officiating. Here we are playing a national TV game and we don’t have a goal line camera. Not one single goal line shot whether the ball got over or not, which is amazing to me. I don’t think we win the game, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting. I really feel strongly that we got in on first down for sure and on second down, it would’ve been nice to have a shot at it, but we didn’t have any video of it. They couldn’t overturn it, because there’s no video of it, which I don’t know how that happens.”
Greene felt he had scored.
“I thought I was in the end zone, but it is what it is,” he said.
The Mountaineers were able to cut into their deficit before halftime after forcing their first punt and getting a 3-yard touchdown pass from Greene to tight end Kole Taylor. The scoring play was made possible by Greene’s 13-yard pass to wideout Hudson Clement on fourth-and-9 two plays before the touchdown and enabled the Mountaineers to trail 31-14 at halftime.
But the second half didn’t yield better results for the WVU defense, which surrendered Gabriel’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Stoops on the fourth play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
“They made a lot of really good plays, but they also made a lot of plays that were easy, too,” Brown said. “The quarterback was pretty clean. They had a bunch of catch and runs. Drake Stoops is a hell of a football player. This may be his biggest night receiving. You don’t appreciate it when you’re going against him, but when you watch the tape, you’re like, ‘that kid’s maximizing his talent.’ He’ll go play in the NFL, which good for him. But we didn’t make enough competitive plays. They did and that’s why they kicked our tail.”
WVU answered back with Greene’s 7-yard touchdown pass to receiver Devin Carter, though the two-point pass play fell incomplete, leaving the Mountaineers with a 38-20 deficit and 9:28 left in the third quarter.
West Virginia got no closer the rest of the way despite forcing a punt on the ensuing OU series.
However, Greene’s pass on third-and-23 was intercepted by OU’s Reggie Pearson, whose 12-yard return allowed the Sooners to start at the WVU 43. Seven plays later, Gabriel threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Stoops and the Sooners led by 25.
Gabriel threw another 9-yard TD pass to Stoops 1:14 into the fourth quarter and the OU signal-caller wrapped up the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run with 7:59 remaining.
Gabriel completed 23-of-36 passes for 423 yards. OU, which had 644 total yards, wasn’t short on balance. Tailback Gavin Sawchuk rushed for 135 yards on 22 carries.
Stoops had game highs of 10 catches for 164 yards and Nick Anderson had 119 receiving yards on four catches.
Greene threw for 154 yards and was limited to 24 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
“It all goes back to me doing what I’m coached to do,” Greene said. “They harp on me all the time that the reads are the reads and I have to do a better job with that.”
Donaldson gained 79 yards on 14 carries before exiting with an injury in the second half.
The Mountaineers look to assure themselves of a winning season at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday when they welcome Cincinnati for the home finale.
“Obviously we didn’t have our kids prepared and we didn’t coach well enough,” Brown said. “That starts with me and at the same token, I can promise you we’ll finish a hell of a lot better than we looked tonight, because that hasn’t been the team that we’ve been coaching all year.”