WVU football: Mountaineers crushed by OSU, 55-34
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Clint Chelf became the third quarterback to start and win a game for Oklahoma State this season and a Boone Pickens Stadium crowd of 57,799 watched West Virginia lose a fourth straight game for the first time in 11 years and for the first time ever in conference play.
"It was bad," Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I understand how bad it was."
Chelf completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the 55-34 win against WVU. The last one, a 20-yard play to Josh Stewart with 12:05 remaining, halted WVU's prolonged comeback effort. The Mountaineers trailed 14-0, 21-7, 28-14, 31-17 and 38-24, but the pass to Stewart, made it 48-34 and put the pressure on WVU's offense.
WVU then turned it over on downs at its own 39-yard line. The Cowboys scored again three plays later on a 21-yard run by Jeremy Smith. It was the fifth scoring play of 20 yards or more against WVU's defense in the game.
In addition to the defensive woes, the special teams committed a list of costly mistakes. Among the many, the Mountaineers allowed a kickoff return touchdown and turned the ball over on errors fielding a kickoff and a punt. Those miscues led to a field goal and a touchdown.
"Some of the issues we had were flat-out unacceptable," Holgorsen said. "I don't know how to coach that when the ball comes to you, you get it and return it. If the ball hits the ground on a punt, everyone in the country, starting in junior high, goes, 'Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter,' and gets away from the ball.
"I can't explain that. I have no answers for that. The special teams flat-out gave them 17 points. That was probably the biggest difference in the game."
The Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) play host to No. 12 Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday looking to avoid the longest losing streak since six straight in 1986. There is also the issue of bowl eligibility, which requires six wins and which seemed like a given when WVU was 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and No. 4 in the coaches' poll Oct. 7.
WVU began the season thinking and speaking openly about a conference championship and an inside track toward the national title. It is now simply angling for a bid in the Pinstripe Bowl, the last of the Big 12's seven bowl tie-ins and, ironically, against the fourth pick from the Big East, which WVU paid $20 million to flee this season.
"I just want to make it to some sort of a bowl game now," receiver Stedman Bailey said. "It will be very disappointing if we don't, but we're not going to let that happen."
Quarterback Geno Smith rebounded from three shaky games by completing 36 of 54 passes for 364 yards and two scores. Bailey, who had 12 receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown the previous three games, caught 14 passes for 225 yards and a score against the Cowboys (6-3, 4-2). The running game again struggled and finished with just 75 yards on 33 attempts.
OSU's Joseph Randle rushed 21 times for 74 yards, 42 yards below his Big 12-leading average. He had 47 yards in the first quarter. Stewart caught 13 passes for 172 yards and two scores and added a 46-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring.
Chelf, a rarely used junior, started in place of true freshman Wes Lunt, who was hit in the head and left early in last week's loss to Kansas State. He was named starter in April, but was injured in the third game and watched redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh take control of the job. Walsh was lost for the season in a win against Iowa State Oct. 20.
"We wanted to get him comfortable," OSU Coach Mike Gundy said. "I'm pleased with the way he handled the offense. We had 66 plays and I'm going to guess that on 50 of those he had to decide what to do with the ball. I think he only made a mistake twice."
WVU found itself behind at the half for the fifth time in six Big 12 games, but gave itself a chance. Down 31-17 -- the fourth time in six conference games the other team has managed at least 31 points in the first two quarters -- the defense forced a punt and the offense made a big play.
Smith threw a 75-yard pass to Bailey on the same play Smith overthrew Bailey on in the first half. Smith threw a touchdown pass to Ryan Nehlen, a game captain, two plays later to make it 31-24. The Mountaineers squibbed the kickoff and it hit an OSU player 10 yards away, but the Cowboys recovered at the WVU 49.
The defense forced another punt and WVU's Tavon Austin decided not to field it. The ball bounced and Austin waved off teammates, but Austin never left the vicinity of the ball. It hopped up and hit him in the stomach and OSU recovered at the 12. A 5-yard touchdown pass made it 38-24.
"In the locker room at halftime, we were determined to go out and make a run and then all of a sudden, to make just a silly mistake and give them seven points is incredibly deflating," said Holgorsen, the Cowboys offensive coordinator in 2010.
WVU recovered and first-and-goal, but ended up taking a holding penalty on Quinton Spain and then a four-yard loss when Smith and running back Andrew Buie bumped into one another on a handoff and Buie fell. Tyler Bitancurt made a 37-yard field goal.
Chelf's pass slipped through a receiver's hands on the next drive and WVU linebacker Terence Garvin intercepted it and returned it 41 yards to the OSU 1. Smith scored on a sneak on the next play to make it 38-34.
The Cowboys answered and used the pass to get a first down at the WVU 12, but ended up kicking a 32-yard field goal to take a 41-34 lead.
The Mountaineers were actually fortunate to be down just 31-17 at the half given the low moments from the first two quarters. The offense botched a jet sweep to Austin on the first play from scrimmage and then a handoff to Buie on the second.
The punt traveled 55 yards, but the Cowboys needed five plays to go 78 yards and take the lead for good. Stewart ran 46 yards to score on a reverse.
Smith missed the deep pass to Bailey where Bailey was open behind his cornerback and would have scored had Smith thrown an accurate pass. WVU had a third-and-2, but Buie ran into his offensive line four yards deep in the backfield.
The Cowboys punted and on WVU's third-and-3, Smith threw behind running back Dustin Garrison on a swing pass. Garrison had room and a chance to do something if the throw led him. He instead battled to gain just yard.
To make matters worse, the Mountaineers managed a delay of game penalty before the punt. Stewart scored again on a 21-yard play when he was open in the middle of the field.
"We made junior high mistakes," Holgorsen said. "When you make junior high mistakes, you're not going to win very many games."
WVU finally got a break, but in the most unlikely scenario. A false start set up second-and-15 and Smith scrambled for seven yards on a busted play, but was sacked on third down. He lost five yards, as well as his helmet, and had to come off the field. Backup Paul Millard entered on fourth-and-13 at the OSU 37 and actually threw a touchdown pass to Bailey to make it 14-7.
OSU's Justin Gilbert returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, the school-record fifth of his career.
WVU spent 16 plays getting down to the OSU 2, but on fourth-and-goal the familiar run to the right behind the big formation was stopped and Shawne Alston couldn't score. The Cowboys punted and WVU made it 21-14, first converting fourth-and-5 with a pass to Austin and then with Austin scoring on a 17-yard catch-and-run on third-and-10.
A squib kick to keep the ball away from Gilbert was returned to the OSU 41 and the Cowboys scored three plays later when tight end Blake Jackson got behind the defense for a 48-yard touchdown. The Cowboys dribbled their kick and it took a high bounce. Buie turned around to look back at Austin and Bailey, but the ball hit Buie's helmet and then rolled around with players from both teams before the Cowboys recovered at the 14.
WVU's defense forced a 26-yard field goal before OSU had a special teams error. Austin returned the kickoff 20 yards, but the Cowboys committed a personal foul during and then after the play and WVU had the ball at OSU's 39 and settled for Tyler Bitancurt's 41-yard field goal.
Holgorsen said WVU went into halftime thinking it should have been in the lead.
"We work on handoffs every single day. We work on fielding punts and kicks every single day. We work on communicating every single day," Holgorsen said. "When you get into an environment like this, you've got to be mentally tough enough to execute the way you've been doing for a long, long time. We've been saying this and we're clearly not getting through to our players that you need to go out there, play at a high level and not make junior high mistakes 100 percent of the time."