WVU football: Special teams only part of DeForest's problems
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No matter how much trouble West Virginia's special teams units encountered Saturday against No. 14 Oklahoma, they seemed unlikely to top the turmoil that found coordinator Joe DeForest hours before kickoff.
But they gave it a shot.
A pair of preventable special teams errors led to 10 points for the Sooners in the first half of their 16-7 win. Earlier in the day, DeForest was implicated in a pending Sports Illustrated investigative project focused on Oklahoma State's program. It accuses him of paying players for making specific plays when he was an assistant there.
Athletic Director Oliver Luck said WVU has started an independent review of the matter and contacted the NCAA. He added that DeForest denied the allegation. DeForest didn't speak to reporters after the loss.
WVU's defense forced a punt in the first quarter and the Mountaineers pressured the punter, but freshman cornerback Daryl Worley hit the punter and was called for a personal foul. OU's drive continued and ended with a field goal.
Later in the quarter, receiver Mario Alford, who DeForest asked to return punts for the game after letting Jordan Thompson do it last week, fumbled a punt after signaling for a fair catch. That preceded OU's lone touchdown of the game.
"Those are the two (mistakes) that everyone is going to see ... but you're looking at about 40 percent of our team that's never played a Big 12 football game," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Then couple that with being at Oklahoma in week two and it's tough.
"But we put those guys in position to make plays. They've got to make plays. Those two stand out, but there are a whole lot of things out there we can pinpoint where guys are inexperienced that are going to have to get better."
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THE MOUNTAINEERS lost several players to injuries throughout the game. Linebacker Isaiah Bruce, who forced a fumble in the second quarter, but had been "terrible," according to Holgorsen, was lost for the game in the second quarter.
Safety K.J. Dillon, who played extensively in a nickel package against the Sooners, was lost for the game in the third quarter. Nose guard Shaq Rowell left the game in the third quarter, but returned.
WVU provided no information about the players during or after the game. There was an update for linebacker Doug Rigg, mostly because what happened could've been much worse. Rigg was hurt in the closing minutes and carted from the field.
"Scary," Holgorsen said. "He collided with one of our guys, but he was out cold. He started responding and was moving his hands and feet."
As Rigg went low to make a play, safety Karl Joseph converged and went helmet-to-helmet with Rigg.
"I'm all right," Joseph said. "I hope he's OK. It's scary. I pray he's all right and we can get him back on the field."
Rigg said on Twitter after the game he was fine and traveling back to campus with the team.
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HOLGORSEN ADMITTED after the game he misused timeouts, including an odd sequence that saw him use all three of his timeouts in the second half on one drive in the third quarter. The third was necessitated by Holgorsen wasting his only replay challenge in the first half.
"It's tough," he said. "We didn't do a good job managing timeouts. There were a couple of them where we were trying to get a review."
Quarterback Paul Millard was sacked in the second quarter and lost a fumble. Replays showed Millard was hit and lost the ball before he began a throwing motion. Holgorsen had already called two timeouts, and despite the time that transpired between the change of possession and the opportunity that allowed the Mountaineers to review the play, Holgorsen decided to challenge the call.
In the third drive of the third quarter, WVU needed a timeout after Millard cramped up following a pass with 5:56 to go. A holding penalty against center Tyler Orlosky eventually set up a third-and-20 and WVU called a timeout to pick a play with 4:45 remaining. It was a 19-yard catch-and-run by receiver Kevin White, but he was hit and fumbled near the first-down marker and the Sooners recovered.
The replays again showed WVU losing a fumble, but Holgorsen, now without a challenge, called his final timeout at the 4:32 mark and asked the officials to review the call. They did not. The Mountaineers played the final 19:32 with no timeouts, which loomed large later.
Millard tried to call a timeout on fourth-and-2 at OU's 44 with 6:26 left to play, but ended up taking a delay of game. Following the turnover on downs, OU's Brennan Clay ran on seven consecutive plays and the Sooners took 5:21 off the clock despite picking up just two first downs.
"We've got a bunch of guys up there (in the coaches' booth) and they show it on replay in the stadium," Holgorsen aid. "We look at it live, but we don't know more than (the officials). You've got to go with your gut. We felt like we needed to do it in order to catch a break."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.