MORGANTOWN - Tavon Austin's career game against No. 12 Oklahoma wasn't enough to lead the Mountaineers to victory as West Virginia was defeated 50-49
A last minute touchdown from Oklahoma (8-2) sent the Mountaineers (5-5) home with their fifth straight loss of the season. It's the worst losing streak for WVU since the 1986 season when Don Nehlen's squad finished 4-7.
"I want to congratulate Oklahoma," said head coach Dana Holgorsen. "They came in here and overcame some adversity. Ended up making one more play than we did, which was the difference in the game."
The two teams combined for 1,440 total yards in this highly contested battle between two Big 12 schools.
After the first half, it was a 31-17 game in favor of Oklahoma. All the action and excitement came in the final 30 minutes in what was maybe the most thrilling second half of the season for both teams.
In an attempt to get the offense clicking in any way imaginable, Tavon Austin lined up in the backfield as a running back throughout the night. And the idea from coach Holgorsen couldn't have worked any better.
Austin visibly begged for the ball throughout the game, and when he was handed the pigskin, he made the most of his opportunities. On the second play of the second half, Austin took a handoff, followed a block from Ryan Nehlen, and ran 76-yards down the sideline for a score.
The offense started to hit their stride in the second half. On a 17 play, 6:02 drive, Austin took a handoff four yards for a touchdown on a third and goal attempt. Bitancurt then followed up by missing the extra point, keeping the lead at eight points.
After a defensive stop, Austin went to work yet again. Using his shiftiness, he had a rush of 56-yards down the right sideline this time. He set up the offense in good position, but a deep pass to Stedman Bailey fell incomplete, and an apparent defensive pass interference penalty was missed. Andrew Buie was later stopped on a fourth-and-short attempt.
However, West Virginia kept things interesting. Just when the Sooners were moving the ball, quarterback Landry Jones chucked a ball up and Broderick Jenkins came away with an interception on the WVU three-yard line.
A 97-yard drive in just over two minutes put the Mountaineers down two, with nothing but a two-point conversion between them and a tie ball game. Geno Smith took the snap, looked left, and threw towards a diving Bailey, but it fell incomplete.
A big stop on the defense left the Mountaineers with another opportunity, and they captured it. On the first play of the drive, Austin took a handoff 53-yards down the field, again. Two penalties on Oklahoma put the ball on the OU eight-yard line. Seconds later, Smith threw the ball towards the corner of the end zone where Bailey grabbed it, and kept his feet inbounds for a touchdown.
Oklahoma responded. The Sooners were able to reach the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills, his third of the night. The Sooners elected to go for two, in order to make it a three-point game, and failed as Jones' pass fell incomplete.
Ensuing drive for the Mountaineers. First play, Austin rushes around the left end and up the field for a 47 yard gain. Second play, Bailey runs a streak past two defenders and catches deep ball from Smith, touchdown. Mountaineers back up by five after failed two-point conversion.
The Sooners would get the ball back with just over two minutes remaining. They drove down the field and found themselves with a fourth and three try on the six yard line with 0:27 remaining. Stills ran a short slant route and caught Jones' pass on the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Mountaineers had just under thirty seconds to respond, but a hail mary attempt fell short of the goal line and incomplete as time expired. The Mountaineers didn't have any timeouts going into their final drive as Holgorsen called two before the two-point conversions.
"We didn't use our timeouts wisely in the second half," Holgorsen said.
Tavon Austin broke several records on this night. His 344 rushing yards was a school record. The statistic that stands out is his 572 all-purpose yards, which set a Big 12 mark. He was excited about playing as a running back again.
"Back there is like home," said Austin. "I have to give to my coaches, I have to give it to my offensive line, Geno making the right checks. And me just making people miss in the open space."
His head coach added to the explanation of putting Austin in the backfield.
"We haven't been ale to run the ball," said Holgorsen. "Obviously, he goes for 344 yards, we probably should have done it four years ago."
Geno Smith returned to form despite his two interceptions. He threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 20-for-35 passing. He added four rushes for 52 yards, second best behind Austin.
His go to receiver was Stedman Bailey, who caught thirteen passes for 205 yards and all of Smith's touchdown throws.
Kenny Stills of Oklahoma matched Bailey with four touchdown receptions, but only managed 91-yards receiving on 10 catches.
"The last couple games that we've lost, if it would have been one more play or two more plays, we would have been happy right now," said cornerback Broderick Jenkins. "But coaches keep emphasizing that it only takes one play. So we just have to take that and try to build off that."
West Virginia will head to Iowa State the day after Thanksgiving, and Oklahoma State on Nov. 24.