By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
What difference a year makes.
Just 10 months back, West Virginia University and Oklahoma played a football game in which 99 points were scored, 50 of them by the Sooners, and more than 1,500 yards were gained.
That was when Geno Smith was throwing for West Virgina, Landry Jones for Oklahoma. It was when Tavon Austin was rushing for 344 yards and 572 all-purpose yards.
Those days are gone, as gone as are Smith, Jones and Austin.
In this year’s renewal in Norman, Okla., the Sooners edged the fumbling, bumbling West Virginia offense, 16-7, erasing a proud effort by the defense because the offense behind Paul Millard and the special teams were anything but special.
“Seven points on the board are pitiful,” said Coach Dana Holgorsen, who in two years plus had never scored so few points as WVU coach. “We are real young and had inexperienced guys in key positions that made mistakes.”
It was billed as a battle between two inexperienced quarterbacks, and neither produced.
Paul Millard completed 21 of 41 for 218 yards without a touchdown and one interception for WVU, while OU’s Trevor Knight completed 10 of 20 for 119 yards and a touchdown to go with two interceptions. He also rushed for 49 yards.
To sum up the game, it is best to put it this way.
Each team had one touchdown and four turnovers.
The field was baking in 96-degree heat at kickoff, and you had an idea early that big things were to come.
On the game’s second play, Millard scrambled until he could find Charles Sims and hit him with a 24-yard pass, but a big mistake by Dreamius Smith, a chop block, put an end to any dreams of a quick score. WVU wound up punting, Nick O’Toole continuing his powerful punting with a 50-yard boot that rolled dead at the 10.
The Sooners made a mistake of their own, snapping the ball past quarterback Trevor Knight and rolling back toward the end zone. Knight got it but just before he went into the end zone for a safety he tried to throw it and was penalized for intentional grounding, putting the ball at the 1.
The Sooners got out of trouble when Brandon Clay broke a run for 33 yards but wound up punting, WVU taking over and about to spring a big surprise on the Sooners.
Millard handed the ball to Smith, who made a thousand amends for the earlier chop block as he battered his way through a pair of tackles, cut outside and streaked down the left sideline, outrunning his reputation of not being a burner, to say nothing of the Oklahoma defense, crossing the goal line 75 yards downfield for a touchdown and a 7-0 WVU lead.
Oklahoma answered with a 44-yard field goal from Michael Hunnicutt to cut it to 7-3 but that was a victory for the Mountaineers as on the third down play the inexperienced Knight threw incomplete to the wrong receiver when Jalen Saunders was wide open running down the middle toward the end zone.
It hadn’t been a very good day for WVU special teams coordinator Joe DeForest from the beginning, learning he was being accused of paying players for performance when coaching at Oklahoma State in an upcoming Sports Illustrated investigative article.
It got worse just before the end of the first quarter when punt returner Mario Alford muffed a punt and turned it over to Oklahoma, leading to a short touchdown drive that ended with Oklahoma’s Millard, Trey, catching a short pass from Knight to make give the Sooners a 10-7 lead.
Moments later WVU played some more giveaway, Millard being hit just as he was releasing it, the play being called a fumble and Oklahoma recovery, Holgorsen challenging the call and losing the challenge.
Interestingly, the game’s offensive hero, Dreamius Smith, wound up getting a lecture from Holgorsen for failing to protect Millard’s blind side, making it more of an up-and-down night for Smith.
The Sooners looked like they might make something out of that fumble as Knight hit one of his rare completions on third down only to have WVU linebacker Isaiah Bruce run receiver Lacoltan Bester down from behind and knock the ball free, Darwin Cook falling on it for the recovery.
After being forced to punt, the WVU defense rose up again and bit the Sooners where it hurts the most, linebacker Brandon Golson creeping up on Knight’s blind side and blasting the ball loose from him with Will Clarke recovering.
WVU could do nothing offensively, however, which allowed Oklahoma to stretch its halftime lead to 13-7 on a Hunnicutt field goal just before the half.
The third quarter was a festival of mistakes, a quarter in which WVU used all three of its second-half timeouts.
During the quarter Darwin Cook made a simply spectacular interception in the end zone. Karl Joseph, the other safety, added another one, but Millard threw an interception to the Sooners’ Gabe Lynn, and Kevin White, with WVU driving for a what could have been a tying touchdown, fumbled the ball away, the ever present Lynn recovering and returning it.
But that wasn’t the half of it. The special teams continued their disastrous evening, Alford fair catching a punt on his own 5, setting up a punt from the end zone that O’Toole shanked just 33 yards, his first bad punt of the year.
Through it all, though, the defense continued to hold, forcing yet another Oklahoma punt … this one with Jordan Thompson back in place of Alford. It wasn’t much of an improvement, fair catching at the 9.
The Sooners were the first team to make a change at quarterback, bringing in Blake Bell and the Belldozer offense which went down the field for a fourth-quarter, 32-yard field goal from Hunnicutt. It was an important field goal as it gave the Sooners a 16-7 lead.
NOTES: WVU showed up with “CJ” decals on the helmets in memory of Associate AD Curtis Jones, who died suddenly this week. … In a warm gesture, Oklahoma paid tribute to the WVU baseball team for its humanitarian efforts when Moore, Okla., was savaged by tornadoes during the Big 12 baseball tournament. … WR Kevin White played for the first time and caught his first pass of his career, a screen for a first down. … The Pride of West Virginia band made the trip to Norman by bus and had the crowd cheering with a halftime performance, ... NG Shaq Rowell suffered a fourth-quarter leg injury and limped off the field. ... Oklahoma had its 87th consecutive sellout.