September 9, 2013

Sooners grind out win

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s 16-7 win against West Virginia wasn’t one for the football purists, but it did get the job done on a night unfortunately characterized more by crucial errors than stellar play.

There certainly were bright spots for both teams, especially on defense; but, when both teams combine for eight turnovers and just one touchdown each – especially when those teams put up a combined 99 points in their meeting the previous season – something has gone wrong somewhere.

“You rush the ball for 316 yards, it’s pretty special,” Sooners head coach Bob Stoops said. “Some of the areas that weren’t is turnovers. It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over.”

The game began as if it would be an outing similar to last year when West Virginia put up over 700 yards of offense against Oklahoma. After both teams were stopped on their opening drives, the Mountaineers showed they’ve got a running game, too. Dreamius Smith charged through the defensive line and bolted past six would-be tacklers to put West Virginia up 7-0 with just over six minutes gone.

On their next drive, the Sooner’s struggled to move the ball once again, but they were saved by a roughing the kicker call when Daryl Whorley clattered into Jed Barnett. This gave the Sooners another chance, but they were only able to offer a Hunnicutt field goal to make the score 7-3.

Oklahoma got a second chance for a second time when the West Virginia return man dropped a punt  to give the Sooners a short field at 32 yards. Damien Williams, who deserved a touchdown after running for a hard fought 95 yards on 21 carries, was brought down just before he completed the 17-yard jaunt into the end zone. This only prolonged the inevitable. Knight rolled to his right and found fullback Trey Millard for a 1 yard touchdown pass. OU took its first lead of the game at 10-7.

A strong night defensively for Oklahoma was no more evident than when Mountaineer’s quarterback Paul Millard was run down, which forced a fumble recovered by the Sooners. There was no mistaking what happened next when Oklahoma gave the ball back. A 32 yard pass was caught by LaColtan Bester, but he was stripped trying to get in the red zone and the Mountaineers recovered on their own 18 yard line.

West Virginia was forced to punt, but no prizes for guessing what happened next. Brandon Golson blind-sided Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight who dropped the ball, and it was recovered by defensive lineman Will Clarke. Once again, the Mountaineers had a chance to answer.

With an unwavering OU defense to contend with, West Virginia had to punt again, but the Sooners had to settle for a field goal. At halftime they had the 13-7 lead, but had to feel like it could have been so much more.

That trend continued to start the second half. On a career night, Brennan Clay broke a 34-yard run down field to give the offense some momentum, and then ran again to set the Sooners up inside the red zone. Clay finished the night with 170 yards on the ground off 22 carries. Knight then dropped back to lob one up, but he didn’t see the Pioneer deep back underneath his receiver who intercepted the ball for another turnover.

At midfield, the game of hot potato with the ball continued. Millard’s pass was intercepted by Gabe Lynn for the sixth turnover of the game. The seventh soon followed when the Mountaineers got another interception near their own 20 yard line.

After a third quarter that took almost an hour and felt even longer, Oklahoma decided to replace Knight with quarterback Blake Bell to start the fourth quarter and received a rapturous applause from the crowd. Bell saw the game out for Oklahoma, and while Stoops wasn’t candid about how he will handle a misfiring Knight, who finished the game 10-20 with two interceptions, it will certainly be the source of speculation this week.

“That’ll be something we have to discuss,” Stoops said about the quarterback position.