MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Landry Jones’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds left gave Oklahoma a 50-49 victory over West Virginia in another wild Big 12 game at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Jones passed for 554 yards and six touchdowns – four of those going to Stills – as the Mountaineer secondary once again had trouble trying to stop another Big 12 quarterback.
“I’m very proud of the players and their efforts,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “I am incredibly proud of the team to hold it together the way they did to come back.”
The 13th-ranked Sooners (8-2, 6-1) were the third Big 12 team to pass for more than 500 yards against West Virginia’s defense and the sixth out of seven to throw at least three touchdown passes against the Mountaineers. In seven Big 12 games so far this season, WVU has given up 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air.
“I’m proud of our coaches and I’m proud of our players who put us in positions to win the game,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us.”
The game came down to Oklahoma’s final drive when the Sooners, trailing 49-44 and with two timeouts remaining, were able to use a 46-yard kickoff return by Brennan Clay to get the football near midfield.
Right away Jones went to work, hitting Stills for 6 to the WVU 48 and then finding Justin Brown for 36 yards to the West Virginia 12. The Mountaineers had three different defenders surrounding Brown at about the 35-yard line, but all three missed him as he made a quick move to the inside and ran down to the 12.
At that point, with the clock winding down inside of two minutes, Stoops chose to keep the clock running and either win it or lose it with his offense on the field. Following a two-yard loss by running back Damien Williams, Stoops burned his second timeout with 31 seconds left after Jones’s 10-yard pass to Brown came up two yards short of the sticks at the 4.
Blake Bell came in the game to run a quarterback sneak and was thrown for a yard loss on third down, forcing Stoops to use his last timeout with 26 seconds remaining.
The winning play was a quick slant to Stills when he was able to beat Ishmael Banks to the inside for the ball. Stills also caught red zone touchdown passes of 4, 11 and 7 yards.
“Landry Jones – to lead those drives at the end of the game; such great precision, execution up there, throwing strikes, and receivers making tough, competitive catches – all of that together was really pleasing to come back and win a game away from home," said Stoops.
Oklahoma’s comeback spoiled a pair of terrific performances by Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Austin, a slot receiver, set the school single-game rushing record with 344 yards (on 21 carries) and the school all-purpose yardage record with 572 yards and Bailey ended the evening with 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns against an Oklahoma secondary that came into tonight’s game ranked eighth in the country in yards allowed and having given up just three touchdown passes all season.
“They have a couple of receivers that are as good as we’ll see – and that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Stoops. “They made their plays.”
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith also became the first passer to throw for more than 300 yards against the Sooner defense, completing 20-of-35, as the Mountaineers produced 778 total yards. Austin’s two touchdown runs tonight gives him the rare feat of scoring touchdowns four different ways this season: by run, pass, punt return and kickoff return.
“That’s where it really hurt us,” said Stoops of Holgorsen’s decision to use Austin in the backfield. “Obviously we weren’t ready for it.”
“Moving him around and giving him some different match-ups was probably a pretty good idea,” added Holgorsen.
The two teams combined for 1,440 yards in a game that was reminiscent of West Virginia’s Big 12 opener against Baylor when both defenses couldn’t get off the field. West Virginia won the Baylor game by running out the clock with its offense on the field. This time, the Mountaineer offense also ended the game with the ball in their hands, but tonight it just didn’t have enough time left on the clock for a decent chance to score again.
A key sequence in this back-and-forth game came near the end of the third quarter when Holgorsen chose to go for it on fourth and 1 at the Oklahoma 14 instead of kicking the field goal. At the time, WVU was trailing 38-30 and had just missed a PAT on its prior touchdown. A field goal at that point would have reduced Oklahoma’s lead to 38-33, but the missed PAT undoubtedly had an impact on Holgorsen's choice to go for it.
On the unsuccessful fourth down play – the 32nd time WVU has gone for it on fourth down this year - Andrew Buie was stuffed for a yard loss, giving the ball back to the Sooners. From that point on, West Virginia was chasing points the rest of the night.
The Mountaineer defense was actually able to hold Oklahoma on its next possession when Brodrick Jenkins picked off Jones’s long pass to Stills at the WVU 3, and right away West Virginia got out of a deep hole when Smith hooked up with Bailey for 35 yards down the middle to the 38. Two plays after that, Smith found Bailey for 33 more yards to the OU 28 before Smith took off and ran for 24 to the Sooner 4. Smith’s inside pass to Bailey on the next play cut Oklahoma’s lead to two, 38-36.
West Virginia was unsuccessful on its two-point try, but was able to get the ball right back when Jones fumbled Gabe Ikard’s shotgun snap on a third-and-five play at the Oklahoma 46 with the play clock winding down. Jones had to fall on the ball there, forcing Tress Way to punt the football back to the Mountaineers.
On a first down play at the WVU 15, Austin shot through a big hole and ran 54 yards to the Oklahoma 31. Two Oklahoma penalties on the play – an illegal use of the hands and a sideline interference infraction – moved the ball half the distance to the goal to the 8. From there, Smith located Bailey in the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown, giving West Virginia a 42-38 lead. Bitancurt’s PAT made it 43-38 with 7:12 remaining.
Three minutes later, Jones had the Sooners right back in the end zone when he hooked up with Stills for a 7-yard score. Less than two minutes after that, with 2:53 left, West Virginia scored again when Bailey got behind Aaron Colvin for a 40-yard touchdown.
“They made one more play than we did,” said Holgorsen. “The kids played hard. How many losses like this do we have to go through? I don’t know. We’ve got two more games left and hopefully we can get back out there and get to work and try and come up with a couple of wins.”
Austin’s 344 yards rushing topped Kay-Jay Harris’s 337-yard performance against East Carolina on Sept. 4, 2004, and his 572 all-purpose yards are the most by any FBS player this year and eclipsed Garrett Ford’s 47-year WVU record of 356 all-purpose yards against Pitt in Morgantown on Oct. 2, 1965. Austin's 572 all-purpose yards were just six shy of the NCAA record of 578 set by Utah State's Emmitt White against New Mexico State in 2000.
West Virginia’s 458 yards rushing tonight were the fifth-best effort in school history and the most since the Mountaineers ran for 517 yards in a 66-21 victory over Connecticut on Nov. 24, 2007.
It was also the first time in school history West Virginia has lost a game when scoring more than 40 points. The Mountaineers were close two weeks ago when they lost 39-39 in double overtime to TCU back on Nov. 3.
“It’s a tough loss but we have to regroup,” said Holgorsen.
West Virginia (5-5, 2-5) now has two more cracks to become bowl eligible, facing Iowa State in Ames on Friday, Nov. 23 and then ending the regular season in Morgantown on Dec. 1 against Kansas. The Cyclones won their sixth game of the year earlier today, 51-23, at Kansas.
West Virginia has dropped five straight games for the first time since 1986.