Oklahoma football: Three telling tales from OU win that was a gift

Sep 25, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners place kicker Gabe Brkic (47) kicks the game-winning field goal during the fourth quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners place kicker Gabe Brkic (47) kicks the game-winning field goal during the fourth quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

This was not an Oklahoma football win that deserves a celebration. In fact, this was a game the Sooners probably should have lost.

Yes, a win is a win, and the Sooners remain undefeated at 4-0, but the way OU is winning games has clearly become a troubling trend and more than just an anomaly. And that is something that is deeply concerning a third of the way into the season.

A 30-yard field goal by OU’s Gabe Brkic, his third of the game, as time expired on the clock enabled No. 4 Oklahoma to pull out the home win, 16-13, over an extremely well prepared West Virginia team that frankly outplayed the Sooners.

The winning field goal by Brkic was Oklahoma’s only lead in the game. The Sooners were on their heels practically the entire game. West Virginia mounted a 17-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the game, consuming almost 10 minutes off the first-quarter clock.

The Sooners countered the West Virginia touchdown with one of their own three minutes later. The score remained 7-7, however, until right before the half, when West Virginia kicked a 24-yard field goal to go up 10-7 at the half, marking the Sooners’ first halftime deficit this season and their first in the last 14 games.

The two teams traded third-quarter field goals, with the Mountaineers taking a 13-10 advantage into the final quarter.

The outcome of this game would likely have been much different had it not been for two costly West Virginia second-half mistakes deep in OU territory.

On a second-and-goal from the Oklahoma one-yard line midway through the third quarter, the Mountaineers were called for a false start, moving the ball back to the six-yard line. After a two-yard gain and an incomplete pass, West Virginia had to settle for a field goal.

Perhaps the defining play in the game came at the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter. On second down at the Sooners 33-yard line, West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege was unable to handle the center snap and the ball rolled all the way back to the Mountaineer 46-yard line before Doege was able to fall on it.

That critical misstep took West Virginia well out of field-goal range, and the ensuing punt set up Oklahoma’s dramatic game-winning drive, which began from the Mountaineer eight-yard line.

Although the scoreboard showed an Oklahoma 16-13 victory, let’s be honest, it was more the result of West Virginia handing the game to the Sooners than any walk-off heroics on the part of the home team.

If this game isn’t a wake-up call to Lincoln Riley and the Sooners, I don’t know what it’s going to take. Oklahoma has reached a critical point in its season, and guess who lies dead ahead on the schedule? OU’s biggest Big 12 nemesis, the Sooner-killing Kansas State Wildcats, and at their place. I wouldn’t be surprised if K-State is favored, which is something no one would have imagined three weeks ago.

The offensive line is struggling to protect Rattler

Spencer Rattler completed 72 percent of his 36 pass attempts, but for the second straight week he was held under 300 yards passing. His longest pass was a 38-yard completion to running-back Eric Gray on the Sooners’ opening drive.

The former No. 1 QB in the 2019 class drew the wrath of the frustrated Oklahoma crowd after the Sooner offense went stagnant on four consecutive possessions and totaled just 91 yards of offense in the first half. The crowd was chanting for OU backup Caleb Williams to replace Rattler.

Rattler told ABC sideline reporter Holly Rowe after the game,

"“I don’t worry about that at all. I don’t listen to them. Their not on the field.”"

Easy for him to say that, but you know it has to affect him. After all, prior to the season, Rattler was considered to favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the prospective No. 1 QB selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Defenses are dropping five to eight defenders and forcing the Sooner star to beat them with underneath throws. But in Rattler’s defense, the veteran OU offensive line has not done a good job protecting the Sooner QB. Part of the blame also for Rattler’s struggles have been the play calling, which are coming from Lincoln Riley on the sidelines.

The bottom line here is, Rattler gets most of the finger pointing for OU’s laboring offense, but the problems are much broader than that.

Sooners run game was virtually non-existent vs. West Virginia

The Sooners were unable to establish their running game, totaling 57 yards on the ground. Eric Gray produced 38 of those yards on 12 carries. Neither Gray or Kennedy Brooks were able to pick up more than 3.4 yards per carry, and as a team that number was down to 2.0 yards per rush.

Oklahoma needs an effective running game to create more passing opportunities, and that hasn’t been happening, which is a big part of the Sooners’ sputtering offense through four games.

Defense allowing too many time-consuming drives

The OU defense actually was one of the bright spots in the Sooners’ win over West Virginia. The Sooners held a good Mountaineer offense to just 226 total yards and only 3.6 yards per play. This was the fourth straight game Oklahoma has held its opponents to 100 or fewer yards rushing. The Mountaineers, who have one of the best running backs in the country in Leddie Brown, were held to just 47 yards on the ground.

Although the overall defensive numbers look good, the Sooners are giving up too many long, time-consuming offensive possessions, which keeps the Oklahoma offense on the sidelines and limits the number of offensive opportunities for Spencer Rattler and Company.

West Virginia had drives of 17 plays to start the game, another of 11 plays and a nine-play possession, and had just two three-and-out possessions the entire game. West Virginia was four for four in third-down conversions on its opening drive, but 0 for 9 on third down after that.

The Sooners need to find ways to get off the field in fewer plays on defense and turn the ball over to the offense, even with all the offensive struggles. You can’t put points on the board if you don’t have the ball. Conversely, the longer the opponents are able to sustain drives, the higher the probability of surrendering points.