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Chuck McGill: Offenses strike fast vs. Mountaineer defense

MORGANTOWN - Perhaps "Scare Raid" is a name more apropos for Coach Dana Holgorsen's aggressive, quick-strike offense.

There's nothing more frightening than putting the West Virginia defense back on the field.

The three-play, 92-yard possession by WVU's offense in the twilight of the fourth quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday night had the obvious upside of seven points and the lead.

The downside was abundantly clear too.

The score and the game clock are equally observed here these days. And such was the case Saturday night against No. 12 Oklahoma.

WVU quarterback Geno Smith's perfectly placed pass over Stedman Bailey's shoulders and safely out of reach from two OU defenders completed a 40-yard touchdown pass that gave the Mountaineers a 49-44 lead ... with 2:53 left on the game clock.

Oh no.

Oklahoma had touchdown drives of 3:59, 0:18, 3:15, 1:25, 2:15 and 2:55 against West Virginia prior to its final drive.

The Mountaineers' defense hasn't shown the ability to force opposing offenses to grind out drives. They're softer than a Twinkie or Sno Ball, but unlike Hostess, still expected to produce.

Including the Sooners' final drive, which lasted six plays and 2:17 before OU scored the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left, WVU's defense has allowed 25 of 44 touchdown drives in under 2:53 against Big 12 competition.

Baylor scored its nine touchdowns in an average of 1:50.

Same goes for Oklahoma State, which had six offensive touchdowns. Oklahoma (8-2, 6-1 Big 12) scored seven touchdowns at an average clip of 2:20.

In those 44 touchdown drives by Big 12 opponents, offenses are averaging 2:33 per scoring drive. WVU had given the Sooners an extra 20 seconds to cover a measly 54 yards.

"We had two timeouts and plenty of time," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said.

No worries for OU. Plenty of concern for WVU.

It's not a new storyline, but this Mountaineers defense simply isn't very good. Heck, it managed to squander a record-setting performance by Tavon Austin (school records for all-purpose yards, 572, and rushing yards, 344). The diminutive do-it-all senior is now on this Heisman voter's radar entering the final weeks of the regular season.

Squandering a 49-point offensive performance is historic too.  

Since West Virginia began playing tackle football in 1891, the Mountaineers were 168-0 when scoring at least 40 points. WVU had twice lost when scoring 38 - two weeks ago at home against TCU and at the end of the 1997 season against Pitt.

Both of those games had multiple overtimes.

But in the fourth quarter Saturday night, even as Bailey caught his Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 19th and 20th touchdown passes to give WVU leads of 43-38 and 49-44, the 50,238 in attendance had to know OU had too much time to answer.  

It seems like poor strategy to consider a more deliberate offensive approach when losing to a nationally ranked Big 12 stalwart like Oklahoma, but another play or two on WVU's three-play, 92-yard drive might've eaten another minute off the game clock.

Maybe OU is forced to take its timeouts to stop the clock, not set up its fourth-and-3 call from WVU's 5 in the game's decisive play.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones had three receivers to his right and one, Kenny Stills, to his left on that play. Jones read the WVU defense and alerted Stills of the change in play call, and from there it was an easy pitch-and-catch for the Sooners 50-49 win.

Stills, by the way, was a 5-star recruit out of high school. Cornerback Ishmael Banks, who was a backup safety a few weeks ago, was in coverage.

"You get in those type of games and it's who's going to make the right couple of plays at the end of the game," said Stoops, who has lost just 22 Big 12 games in 14 seasons and never more than three league games in a single season.

Holgorsen is almost a quarter of the way to Stoops' career Big 12 losses ... in seven games.

WVU is 5-5 overall, 2-5 in its inaugural trip around the Big 12.

The clock is ticking on bowl eligibility. There's not much season left, but as WVU has shown, it doesn't need long for things to go awry.

Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at or 304-348-7949.


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