STILLWATER, Okla. —
In a game with two powerful offenses and suspect defenses, special teams proved especially important. In that phase, West Virginia couldn’t get out of its own way Saturday afternoon and it cost the Mountaineers in a 55-34 loss to Oklahoma State.
West Virginia had a squib kickoff bounce off the helmet of Andrew Buie late in the second quarter. Oklahoma State recovered the ball at the Mountaineers’ 14-yard line, setting up a field goal that gave the Cowboys a 31-14 lead.
Early in the third, with the score 31-24, a squib kickoff ricocheted off an Oklahoma State player, but the Cowboys were able to cover it up to give themselves a short field. West Virginia’s defense held, but Tavon Austin muffed the punt and Oklahoma State recovered at the 12. Four plays later, a touchdown pushed the lead to 38-24.
Then in the fourth quarter, with the score 41-34, the Mountaineers seemed to have a punt surrounded inside the 5-yard line, but they allowed it to take one more bounce and it skipped into the end zone for a touchback. Instead of being pinned deep, Oklahoma State began at its 20 and wound up driving 80 yards for a touchdown.
“We made junior high mistakes,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “When you make junior high mistakes, you’re not going to win many games.”
The Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) struggled on offense early in falling behind 14-0. They got on the board late in the first period when backup quarterback Paul Millard threw a 37-yard TD pass to Stedman Bailey on a fourth-and-13 play. Millard came on because Geno Smith’s helmet got knocked off on the previous play.
But as quickly as West Virginia had drawn close, the gap widened again when the Mountaineers gave up a 96-yard kickoff return to Justin Gilbert.
“Making mistakes at home in the Big 12 is going to hurt you enough, but making mistakes on the road in the Big 12 is worse,” Holgorsen said. “It’s tough enough to win Big 12 games at home, so we have to learn to not make mistakes on the road.”
West Virginia outgained Oklahoma State 479-443. Smith threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns. Bailey had 14 catches for 225 yards.
And the Mountaineers didn’t go quietly. After falling behind 38-24 in the third quarter, they got a field goal and then a 42-yard interception return by linebacker Terence Garvin to set up Smith’s 1-yard TD to make it 38-34.
But then they didn’t muster another scoring drive as the Cowboys pulled away.
“Any time you stop their offense, it’s a heck of a deal because they are difficult to stop, they really are,” said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young. “They get in a rhythm, and all of a sudden it’s like getting in an avalanche.”
Smith said the Mountaineers, who have lost four straight after a 5-0 start, “can’t find a way to win, we’re finding ways to lose.”
“Somehow, some way, we have to bounce back. We have three weeks left, and we have to pick ourselves up and get up and get back to work.”