The West Virginia Mountaineers did a lot of good things in their trip to Oklahoma State Saturday. The offense produced some big plays, including backup quarterback Paul Millard completing a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth down after starter Geno Smith had to leave for one play. And the defense had some moments as well, including an interception setting up a 1-yard score that brought the Mountaineers within four points in the second half.
But while those were bright spots, this team is not good enough to overcome a complete fiasco that was evident on special teams. A 96-yard kickoff return following the Millard touchdown pass immediately halted any momentum. Later on receiving a kickoff, West Virginia did its Keystone Cops imitation, including a bouncing ball off a Mountaineer helmet resulting in a turnover. Early in the second half, West Virginia had momentum but frittered it away when Tavon Austin waved everyone else away from a bouncing punt but allowed it to bounce off him, leading to an easy Cowboy touchdown.
Those miscues accounted for 17 points for Oklahoma State, and don't include the failure of four Mountaineers surrounding a rolling punt failing to prevent it from bouncing into the end zone for a touchback. One player backpeddled into the end zone where he could do no good. At that point it was only a 7-point game and backing the Cowboys up on their own 1-yard line would have been key, but instead with the comfort of better field position they marched down the field for yet another score.
Another opportunity was lost when Smith overthrew a wide open receiver late in the third quarter for what would have been a tying touchdown. Earlier he had missed Stedman Bailey in the end zone and the Mountaineers ended up being stopped on downs. These were plays that WVU didn't miss when jumping out to their 5-0 start. We may have been spoiled by Geno's flawless performances early in the season, and perhaps our expectations that this would continue were unreasonable.
But whatever the cause or reasons, mental mistakes and failure to make enough plays simply are too much to overcome against quality opponents. Losing plays lead to losing teams. The Mountaineers are making too many of the former and as a result are sliding towards becoming the latter.
This Saturday: Oklahoma was considered to be a national championship contender until home losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame squelched their chances. But losing to two of the remaining three undefeated football teams doesn't make the Sooners less imposing. Should Oklahoma not take WVU seriously the Mountaineers might have a shot at an upset that could help salvage the season. But until this team can show it can stop giving points away to its opponents, the results of the last month will continue. Oklahoma 41, West Virginia 31.