Road is a four-letter word. That is an indisputable fact. In the sport of college football, in conference play in October, it can be a literal four-letter curse word.
No. 10 West Virginia was left to cuss and fuss over its first loss of the season. The Mountaineers’ journey to Stillwater for Saturday’s game knocked WVU (6-1, 3-1) from the ranks of the undefeated, as Oklahoma State (6-2, 4-1) rolled to its fourth-consecutive victory, 37-20.
The final margin was provided thanks to the Cowboys converting three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) into 17 points. The Mountaineers had been dominant, particularly in the last two games. They lost hold of the ball on Saturday… and their winning edge.
“They made three plays that flat out affected the game,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team has home games remaining against Oklahoma and Baylor. “It’s as simple as that. They forced three turnovers. They took all three of them down into the red zone. Basically gave them 17 points and we lose by 17 points. That’s the difference in the game.”
Simple, succinct and spot on.
“When you play on the road, it’s extremely difficult,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose team’s only Big 12 loss was at Baylor. “If you go on the road and turn it over, it’s really hard to win. The turnovers were the difference in the game.”
In the Cowboys’ 35-24 loss to the Bears in Waco on Sept. 25, they turned it over four times.
West Virginia’s loss means the next five weeks of the Big 12 race should be wild and crazy. The loss also means the Big 12’s hopes of landing a team in the College Football Playoff have been greatly diminished. Baylor’s loss to Texas contributed to the even bleaker picture the Big 12 faces at the end of October. With the first CFP rankings coming out Tuesday, the Mountaineers left a poor impression for the committee.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudloph had little trouble deciphering the Mountaineers’ vaunted 3-3-5 defense. West Virginia had allowed a total of 27 points to Texas Tech and TCU, two high-powered attacks, over the last two games. Rudolph was 26-of-36 for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He has not thrown an interception in his last four games and has 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the season.
Oklahoma State defensive back Ramon Richards dropped an interception in the first half and West Virginia went on to score a touchdown on the second-chance drive.
In the third quarter, Richards proved that his hands weren’t made of stone.
The Mountaineers were trying to dig out of a 20-10 hole. Quarterback Skyler Howard’s pass to wide receiver Ka’Raun White at the Oklahoma State 35 was behind the receiver but catchable. The ball bounced off White’s hands who closed from his spot in zone coverage for the interception. The former high school quarterback then weaved his way for a 59-yard return to the WVU 9.
“I dropped my first one so I just kept thinking, it has to come back to me, and it came back,” Richards said. “When I got the ball, I thought about high school. I played quarterback so I thought to myself, I have to score.”
Rudolph converted that turnover with a touchdown run to give Oklahoma State a 27-10 lead. That sequence – turnover converted into a touchdown – encapsulated the game.
Gundy has 100 victories as Oklahoma State’s coach. The Cowboys were also playing on the anniversary of last year’s homecoming tragedy where four spectators were killed by an out-of-control driver.
“I mentioned that to the team earlier in the week,” Gundy said.
“I really don’t know how to address it. We want to play the game and play every game as hard as we can. For all of us, homecoming here is special. It’s nice to beat a team that’s ranked 10th in the country on the same day for everybody involved.”
It was five years ago Friday when West Virginia got word that it had been officially invited to join the Big 12. The 6-0 start was its first in over a decade, and the next five weeks will determine if the Mountaineers wind up on top of the football standings for the first time.
“They were better than us today,” said Holgersen, whose team faces Kansas next week. “We’ll be fine. Looking forward to playing again next week.”