MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A big third quarter turned into an awful fourth quarter for West Virginia in what wound up a 59-56 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma on Friday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Up 49-45, West Virginia couldn't stop the Sooners on a 4th and 2 from the goal line and then turned around and allowed Oklahoma to return its second fumble for a touchdown to take a 10-point lead midway through the final quarter. West Virginia followed those letdowns with a three-and-out, and the Mountaineers never recovered.
The loss eliminated West Virginia from the Big 12 championship game.
"You can't give them 14 points," Dana Holgorsen said. "It's a shame we played as good as we did and gave them 14 points. ... We didn't make our goal. We're not going to the Big 12 championship, and it's a damn shame."
On a night where the two teams accounted for 115 points and 1,372 yards, West Virginia made too many mistakes in big moments.
With the game tied in the second quarter at 14, David Sills was flagged for an obvious offensive pass interference, negating a Gary Jennings touchdown. West Virginia then failed to convert on fourth down later in the drive.
On the ensuing Oklahoma possession, David Long forced a fumble and West Virginia took the ball back, only to go three plays and out, giving way to a short rushing score from Trey Sermon after a 65-yard pass play to Marquise Brown, the cousin of Steelers star Antonio Brown, who was in attendance Friday. The score put Oklahoma up 21-14.
After another Oklahoma touchdown, the Sooners scored on their first fumble return to go up two scores.
West Virginia scored just before the half, though, and more back-and-forth ensued in the third quarter, a period that saw Will Grier complete 8-of-12 passes for 232 yards and two scores. Jennings caught five passes for 201 yards and both scores in the frame.
After giving up the fourth-and-goal score, West Virginia was flagged for a personal foul after T.J. Simmons blocked a defender out of bounds, negating a big rushing play. Grier was stripped on the next play, giving way to a 10-point lead for the Sooners.
West Virginia did, however, pull within three points with around 4:17 left in the game, but the Mountaineers failed to recover an onside kick after being flagged for offsides on the kick.
Grier finished the game with 539 yards on 32-of-49 passing to go with four touchdowns. Kyler Murray, meanwhile, led Oklahoma with 364 yards on 20-of-27 passing, tossing three scores. He also added 114 rushing yards, including a 55-yard touchdown.
"We knew it was going to be this kind of game," Holgorsen said of the final score. "We're used to it. You've got to keep playing. The message was to keep playing. I thought they did a good job at that. Good stuff happened, they kept playing. Bad stuff happened, they kept playing."
West Virginia fell to 8-3 overall and 6-3 inside the Big 12 with the loss.
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Gary Jennings
West Virginia wide receiver
Jennings started the game slow, being substituted in and out of the game heavily, which is not par for the course for the typically-durable senior receiver. He got a burst of life, though, as the game went along. After being held without a catch in the first quarter, Jennings finished the game with seven catches for 225 yards and two scores. The bulk of that came in that huge third quarter.
It was the first 200-yard receiving game for a West Virginia receiver since Kevin White torched Baylor for 216 in 2014 and is tied for the second-best single game performance in school history. It took Stedman Bailey 14 catches to total 225 yards in 2012. Oddly enough, both receivers had a long catch of 75 yards.
For the season, Jennings has 52 catches for 917 yards and 13 touchdowns with just the bowl game remaining. For his career, the sure-handed receiver has reeled in 168 passes for 2,294 yards and 17 touchdowns.
2. Kyler Murray
Murray is as good as advertised. He threw accurate passes and ran when he needed to, making the defense pay. On his 55-yard touchdown run, he snuck through the offensive line and he was gone. He was efficient, missing on only seven passes all game while throwing for 364 yards. The damage he did with his legs totaled 114 yards on nine carries. He accounted for four touchdowns.
3. Caleb Kelly
On Oklahoma's first fumble return for a touchdown, Kelley did it all. He absolutely destroyed Colton McKivitz at the line of scrimmage, chased Grier down, stripped the football, picked it up and ran it in from 10 yards out for the score. He totaled 14 tackles for the game, including nine solo stops and the sack. He also had a pass breakup. Oh, and there was a chance he was going to be redshirted earlier this season.
If you liked offense, you loved this football game. The two quarterbacks threw for a combined 903 yards, each averaging over 16 yards per completion. Oklahoma piled up 304 rushing yards, with Murray and Kennedy Brooks (182 yards) each going over 100. The two teams 16 of 27 third downs and four of five fourth downs. The offenses combined for six touchdowns over 40 yards.
Penalties killed West Virginia. Sills' pass interference negated a TD, and Simmons' blocking penalty negated a sizable rushing play. Yodny Cajuste's personal foul almost cost West Virginia, too, if Grier hadn't found Jennings on a 52-yard completion. On the contrary, a penalty that wasn't called may have made a difference, too. Marcus Simms was drilled in the head by free safety Robert Barnes and targeting wasn't called. Simms never returned, taking away a deep threat for a West Virginia offense that still managed to produce 11 chunk plays (more than 15 yards) when throwing the football. West Virginia was also flagged for an offsides on an onside kick late in the game, but it didn't account for much in the loss.
THE PLAY/THE CALL
Fourth-down gambles. Each team went for it on fourth down at least twice. For Oklahoma, going for it on fourth and goal and another fourth down conversion on the game's final drive proved successful. For West Virginia, an unsuccesful fourth and 6 from the Oklahoma 10 proved to be costly. Either way, both teams seemed to know that the offenses were clicking, and they rolled the dice.
THE OTHER SIDE
Oklahoma could really do no wrong. Though Murray did thrown an interception, the Sooners found points on nine of 12 drives, not counting the final drive in which the clock expired. Brown played particularly well in front of his NFL cousin, catching all 11 passes thrown his way for 243 yards and two scores. Oklahoma earned a berth in the Big 12 title game against Texas with the win.
"(Kyler Murray) and (Marquise Brown) are the quickest kids I've ever seen," Holgorsen said. "They're special players, special talents.... I didn't think they could top offensively what they did last year, but they're pretty good."
THE INJURY UPDATE
• Dylan Tonkery, LB, West Virginia: Didn't dress.
• Shea Campbell, LB, West Virginia: Didn't dress.
• Yodny Cajuste, OL, West Virginia: Left the game with an injury in the second half.
• Marcus Simms, WR, West Virginia: Left the game in the first half with an apparent head injury.
West Virginia will be off until it learns of its bowl destination.
Visit our West Virginia team page for everything from this game.
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