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.
What difference a year makes.
- WVU Sports
HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete
In the end, with Bob Huggins, they count victories and losses, and he has always been one to pile up the victories while keeping the losses to a minimum, at least until the last two seasons at West Virginia University.
And, in the end, when he tries to analyze why the losses have come rather than the victories, he comes to understand that he just doesn’t have the manpower to compete.
Carey, Bussie headline Big 12 awards
To the victors go the spoils, and West Virginia University’s newly crowned Big 12 women’s basketball regular-season co-champions certainly took down their share of the conference’s post-season awards, headed by coach Mike Carey and senior center Asya Bussie.
FURFARI COLUMN: Women’s finale fitting as all-time Coliseum great
If you weren’t among the thrilled, extremely vocal 5,502 fans at the WVU Coliseum last Tuesday night, you missed one of the most memorable sports events in that 44-year-old arena’s history.
The No. 7 nationally ranked West Virginia University women’s basketball team’s capture of the Big 12 Conference regular-season co-championship beating Kansas 67-60 on Senior Night was followed by a wild, wonderful celebration.
Carey named Big 12 Coach of the Year
In only his second season in the Big 12 Conference, West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey has been named the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Oklahoma pulls away from WVU, 72-62
Reality hit West Virginia University in the gut Wednesday as No. 23 Oklahoma showed the Mountaineers almost every reason why they are not an NCAA Tournament team this year, pulling away in the second half to a 72-62 victory in Norman.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Lady Mountaineers will always remember their senior season
Taylor Palmer was following a much-traveled path when she packed up her gym shoes four years ago and left Mount Vernon, N.Y., for Morgantown to play basketball.
Lowes Moore and Kevin Jones had both done the same thing and become two of the greatest players West Virginia University had ever produced, each not only playing the game the way it should be played but living life the way it should be lived.
Bradley to give everyone a chance
A day after snubbing the local media by not talking to them on an evening set aside for interviews with assistant coaches, West Virginia University’s latest defensive savior Tom Bradley found 14 minutes to talk to IMG Sports, which possesses the rights to West Virginia sports.
FURFARI COLUMN: Ex-WVU star loves coaching at FSU
Joe Mazzulla, a native of the Providence, R.I., area, now is in his first year as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Fairmont State University.
He had made his coaching debut during a two-year hitch as a member of the staff at Glenville State.
Former WVU player sues NCAA, five conferences
Former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston sued the NCAA and five major conferences Wednesday, saying they violated antitrust laws by agreeing to cap the value of an athletic scholarship at less than the actual cost of attending school.
WVU women clinch share of Big 12 title
West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team had just defeated Kansas, 67-60, to lay claim to a share of the Big 12 championship with Baylor on Tuesday night in the Coliseum, and someone had to sum up the feeling for the five seniors who had made the program grow to championship status.
That someone was Christal Caldwell.
- More WVU Sports Headlines
- HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete