NORMAN — Oklahoma’s 59-20 trouncing of West Virginia Saturday was part statement, part relief.
The Sooners showed us they could still play complementary, reasonably clean football and overwhelm a worthy opponent. They aren’t a great team yet, but they can be great in passages of games. We lost sight of that possibility the past two weeks as they fell at Kansas and Oklahoma State.
The program can beat its collective chest again, followed by a long exhale.
OU can at least chase a Big 12 Championship appearance thanks to Saturday’s outcome. The Sooners can still notch 10 wins before any postseason opportunity, a good-looking figure after winning six last year.
Most relaxing, they can put the Jayhawks and Cowboys behind them and think about goals still in place lying ahead.
Reason to feel better about the past
The offense, source of consternation given OU’s last two weeks, scored on its first five possessions en route to a 31-7 lead. The Sooners poured it on from there, closing with 644 yards to eclipse the 642 they dropped on Arkansas State in the opener.
Dillon Gabriel was a little scattershot, going 13-of-20, as OU built its commanding lead, but he got tighter as the game wore on and landed on a terrific stat line — 23-of-36 for 423 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 50 yards and a trio of touchdowns on the ground, a throwback to the dual-threat impact he had on OU’s victory over Texas.
The Sooners had 23 throws and 20 called runs over their 43 first-half plays, setting a balanced, stress-free tone for Jeff Lebby. It’s just what OU’s playcaller needed after falling out of some favor due to Gabriel’s conservative game at KU and the offense’s six turnovers over back-to-back defeats.
Reason to worry about the future
The Sooners broke out of a funk Nov. 19, 2022, with a 28-13 victory over OSU. Then they finished the regular season with an overtime loss at Texas Tech, followed by a Cheez-It Bowl setback to Florida State for a 6-7 final record.
OU is much improved in several areas one year later, and better positioned to carry the momentum of Saturday night’s result into the rest of the season (at BYU, vs. TCU and then we’ll see about the postseason).
But can the Sooners be trusted?
Their fans expected a cleaner, more complete performance in Bedlam one week after losing at Kansas… only to see OU cough up three turnovers in a 27-24 defeat.
The Sooners seemed to find some things on both sides of the ball against West Virginia — Gavin Sawchuk complementing Gabriel on offense, the linebacking combination of Danny Stutsman and Kip Lewis on defense — but can we trust that everyone will stay on track next week at BYU?
Gallery: OU’s 59-20 victory over West Virginia in pictures
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: Ted Roof
Stutsman returned to the lineup after missing Bedlam, but he moved over to the MIKE linebacker position where Jaren Kanak had started. That allowed Lewis, coming off a 15-tackle breakout in place of Stutsman at OSU, to stay on the field at WILL linebacker.
The Stutsman-Lewis pairing led a charge whereby OU went five straight defensive series in the first half without allowing a first down.
Stutsman had 7 tackles at halftime, Lewis had 6. West Virginia came in averaging 218 rushing yards, but had a reasonable 71 at the half mostly because of the work of OU’s two linebackers.
And what was once a 7-0 Mountaineers lead withered into a 31-14 halftime deficit. There was scant hope of WVU rallying from there.
Coach headed straight back to the film room: Neal Brown
Brown has done extremely well to get West Virginia, a team picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll, to 6-4 and 4-3 in the Big 12. He shouldn’t have to worry about keeping his job, a danger widely considered inevitable heading into this season.
That does not mean he gets a pass for Saturday night.
The Mountaineers had no answers for an OU offense that had fallen off track the past two weeks. They needed to establish their run to take the load off quarterback Garrett Greene but did not. Greene was left to carry the offense, and he wound up 10-of-27 for 154 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.
SportsCenter highlight: “Stoooooooops!”
The trademark Owen Field cry was loudest after OU’s fourth play of the second half, a 20-yard touch pass that Gabriel dropped over a defender into Stoops’ hands at the West Virginia 41.
Stoops’ momentum carried him along OU’s sideline, but he kept his balance and sprinted ahead, slipping Marcis Floyd’s tackle attempt inside the 20. Jalil Farooq blocked further downfield, allowing Stoops free passage to the 10.
WVU cornerback Malachi Ruffin tried wrapping up Stoops inside the 10, but the receiver spun forward through contact and carried Ruffin into the end zone, getting one more assist from Farooq in the process.
Stoops’ standout play on a night he was never better.
Name to remember: Austin Stogner
The OU tight end entered Saturday with 10 catches for 91 yards and no touchdowns on the year, a seemingly forgotten target amid Gabriel’s array of wide receivers.
That changed in Saturday’s first half.
Gabriel dodged a sack on his fourth play before spotting an open Stogner along OU’s sideline. The completion gained 23 yards, Stogner’s longest catch of the season, to the West Virginia 32. Gabriel scored three plays later to tie the game 7-7.
Leading 17-7 in the second quarter, Gabriel beat a 6-man rush with a quick-hitting 8-yard completion to Stogner on fourth-and-5. That allowed OU to finish a 46-yard touchdown drive capped by Stogner’s 3-yard score off play action.
“There was a lot that was really good tonight. That might have been our best four quarters of football, offense and defense.” — Brent Venables
Could you repeat that?
“I had some nice words to say to him.” — Dillon Gabriel on his run-in with Anthony Wilson, the West Virginia cornerback who popped Drake Stoops in the end zone in the fourth quarter and stood over OU’s injured receiver