"Obviously, they're playing much better," OSU Coach Mike Gundy, who beat WVU 55-34 last season, said of the defense. "They're more gap responsible. They're running to the football. They're better tacklers than last year."
Down by 10 points at the half, the Cowboys tied the score in the fourth quarter after a 36-yard return of a 57-yard punt gave them the ball at WVU's 44. On third-and-4 at the 6, an incomplete pass seemed to set up a field goal, but cornerback Ishmael Banks was called for a face mask penalty and the personal foul gave OSU the ball at the 3.
After a two-yard gain, a fade pass into the corner was incomplete on second down and a run on third down lost five yards. The short field goal attempt from the right hash hooked hard to the left and crashed into the upright.
WVU's special teams, led by former OSU assistant Joe DeForest, who was singled out in the Sports Illustrated series about the Cowboys program earlier this month, made the third quarter interesting. Carswell bobbled the kickoff that started the second half and was tackled at his 3. WVU punted and OSU used the short field to score in four plays.
Walsh connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jeremy Seaton, who was uncovered coming out of the three-back set in the backfield.
WVU made it into OSU territory on the next drive, but gained just one yard on second-and-4 and third-and 3 before Lambert's 50-yard field goal was blocked.
Later in the quarter, Thompson signaled for a fair catch at his 3. The next time he caught a punt, he did so in a crowd and lost four yards.
WVU used a pass interference penalty and a 44-yard reception by Carswell to get into field goal territory, but Marquis Lucas cost his team five yards with a false start on fourth down and Lambert's 34-yard attempt went wide right.
"Special teams, we've got lots of issues we've got to get sorted out," Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers led 24-14 at the half with a combination of good play and good fortune.
OSU struck early with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Walsh to Stewart. It was a short throw on a tunnel screen into the middle of the field and Stewart wasn't touched the entire way.
Trickett was intercepted three plays later on a deep throw to midfield, but WVU evened things up on defense. Banks dropped off his coverage to step in front of a bad throw by Walsh that was headed to another receiver. Banks found blockers in the middle of the field, danced up the right sideline and dived into the end zone to cap off a 58-yard return touchdown.
OSU later flubbed a 16-yard punt that gave the Mountaineers the ball at their 30. On third-and-9 at OSU's 17, the Cowboys showed an aggressive blitz and left their cornerbacks alone with WVU's receivers. Trickett saw it coming and threw into the void in the middle of the field for Kevin White, who had gotten inside cornerback Justin Gilbert and made the catch for a 14-7 lead.
The lead grew thanks to another break. Following O'Toole's punt that gave the Cowboys the ball at their 9, running back Jeremy Smith was hit by WVU linebacker Brandon Golson and tackled for a one-yard loss.
The play was reviewed and the replay found Golson forced a fumble linebacker Isaiah Bruce recovered at the 29. The Mountaineers came up empty on third-and-9 and tried to kick a 45-yard field goal. Lambert's attempt hit the left upright and fell to the ground, but only after the Mountaineers had called timeout.
When play resumed, Lambert found a way through the uprights for a 17-7 lead.
OSU replied with its best stretch of offense in the half and had three first downs on an eight-play, 76-yard drive. Walsh ended it with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tracy Moore.
Trickett was intercepted again on the next drive when he threw deep again to White, but the Cowboys could only move the ball from their 9 to the 30 and a 13-yard punt gave WVU a chance late in the half.
On first down, Trickett fumbled the snap and managed to recover the ball in a crowd. On the next play, he scrambled to the right and floated a pass to Mario Alford on the right sideline. Alford made the catch at OSU's 11 and held on despite a big hit from safety Daytawion Lowe.
Sims scored three plays later and WVU was granted another reprieve on the extra-point attempt. The Cowboys blocked it and returned it for a 2-point conversion to make it 23-16, but the player who blocked the kick was ruled offsides.
The second attempt was good and the lead stayed at 10 points when OSU missed a 44-yard field goal at the end of the half.
"Playing on the road is about avoiding turnovers, perfecting the kicking game and not giving up big plays," Gundy said. "In two of those three areas, we were poor. We were poor in the kicking game and we turned the ball over. It's really very simple. We played right into the crowd."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.