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WVU defense offers little resistance against Sooners, continues to be plagued by inconsistency

While West Virginia squandered several prime scoring opportunities Saturday in a 59-20 loss to No. 17 Oklahoma, the greater concern for the Mountaineers was that their defense offered little to no resistance throughout most of the matchup.

The Sooners amassed 644 total yards, scored two touchdowns and at least 14 points in every quarter and converted 8-of-14 third downs along with both of their fourth downs.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had a hand in all eight OU touchdowns, passing for five and running for three, while the Sooners largely did what they wanted throughout a contest that they led for the final 48:16 of.

While expressing disappointment over the way his defense performed, WVU head coach Neal Brown also credited OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby for putting the Sooners’ offense in positions to succeed.

“They spread us out and put us in 1-on-1 situations. Credit to them,” Brown said. “They hadn’t done that as much. That’s in Lebby’s background. I know they’re giving him a hard time, but he’s a hell of an offensive coach. Everywhere he’s been, they’ve been good on offense. Credit to him. The offensive staff is really good and they have a bunch of analysts and really good offensive coaches us as well. They spread us out and made it a 1-on-1 game and we didn’t do a good enough job of putting our kids in position where we could get them some help.”

At times, Gabriel made high-level throws and benefited from the Sooners’ plethora of talented pass-catchers aiding the quarterback. 

Too often, however, Gabriel had a clean pocket with which to throw from and targets running free against a secondary that allowed OU wideouts Drake Stoops and Nic Anderson to combine for 283 receiving yards on 14 catches.

West Virginia finished with two sacks — one each by defensive linemen Sean Martin and Jalen Thornton — but the Mountaineers were credited with only one quarterback hurry.

“We don’t carry a lot of defense right now and part of that is because we can’t handle a whole lot of defense,” Brown said. “We have basically what we have. We didn’t play good enough defense tonight. We didn’t tackle or tear off blocks. We weren’t very good in coverage. 

“Don’t get me wrong — there’s things coaching wise that we should have done better in all three phases.”

The up-and-down season of the WVU defense has been a theme through 10 contests. The unit was its best during a three-game win streak against Pitt, Texas Tech and TCU, but then struggled over the next two games, allowing 89 combined points in losses to Houston and Oklahoma State.

While the Mountaineers had little success preventing Central Florida from moving the ball in their eighth game, WVU forced a season-high four turnovers to help offset the Knights’ yardage, and it went a long way in the Mountaineers’ 41-28 victory. A dominant effort followed and helped the Mountaineers roll by BYU 37-7 last weekend, but there was no carryover in Norman.

Instead, Gabriel passes for 423 yards on 36 attempts and his 23 completions averaged an astounding 18.4 yards. The Sooners had no shortage of balance as well, establishing a ground game earlier and riding the 135-yard effort of tailback Gavin Sawchuk to gain 221 yards rushing on an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.

“They exposed us and hit us with some runs. They blocked us pretty well up front and we missed tackles at the second and third levels,” Brown said. “In coverage, they RPO’d [run-pass option] us and got some guys in some run fits and exposed some guys in some 1-on-1s.”

On Oklahoma’s opening drive, Sawchuk ripped off a 30-yard run to move the Sooners into the red zone, where Gabriel finished things off on a 2-yard run.

“We can be more disciplined in the gap control,” Martin said, “but we also have to be ready for the gap to open and make the tackle.”

The mixture of a steady run game and explosive passing attack was a problem throughout for a defense that continues to be plagued by a lack of consistency and now goes back to the drawing board before next weekend’s home finale against Cincinnati.

“They pretty much did what they wanted to,” Brown said. “Ten of fourteen on end possession downs and we couldn’t get off the field. They exposed us in coverage. They took advantage of matchups and went after some people tonight. We didn’t fit the run very well and couldn’t get off the field. I’m disappointed.” 

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