WVU Football Series History: The Oklahoma Sooners

Daniel Woods

For two schools separated by so much distance, West Virginia and Oklahoma have a surprising amount of history on the gridiron. With the first game between the two being played all the way back in 1958, this series is one that has been dominated by one side but the wins that went the other way were enormous in their impact.

The first-ever meeting between WVU and OU was a non-conference matchup that took place at the Sooners' home field of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, over sixty years ago in 1958. There is little information to be found about this game but the one thing that stands out is the dominance of the home team. WVU was in just the second week of what would be a 4-5-1 season that saw the start of a steep decline and resulted in Art "Pappy" Lewis' resignation following the 1959 season and a winless 1960 season in the first year under Gene Corum.

In comparison, Oklahoma was on its way to a fifth straight ten-win season under Bud Wilkinson and would go on to win the Orange Bowl for the third time in as many years. This game was generally a reflection of each team's respective season with a scoreless first quarter that was followed up by 27 straight for the Sooners in the second and third. The Mountaineers were not able to get on the board until the fourth quarter but wound up allowing another 20 points to finish out a 47-14 drubbing in Norman. However, this was actually one of the better performances against Oklahoma that season as WVU scored over a quarter of the 55 points that the Sooner defense allowed over its 11 game schedule.

There was a 20-year layoff between meetings, but the 1978 game between WVU and Oklahoma did not go any better for the Mountaineers. Played once again in Norman, the Frank Cignetti era was bottoming out in Morgantown with WVU coming off a narrow 14-12 win over Richmond in week 1. Conversely, Barry Switzer was at his peak for the Sooners in year two of four consecutive seasons with double-digit wins and Orange Bowl appearances.

The Sooners were led by Billy Sims, just getting kicked off in his Heisman-winning season, and he dazzled in this performance. Taking just eight carries, the future NFL number one overall pick ran for 114 yards and a touchdown with a 14.3 yards per carry average. Powered by the mighty Switzer wishbone, OU racked up 356 yards on the ground while only throwing 18 passes. The game was over in the first half with WVU trailing 31-3 at the midway break and the Sooners pouring it on in the second half to cap off a 52-10 win.

Four years later, WVU went into Norman for the third time and came away with the first win for the Mountaineers in the series. Year three was just beginning for Don Nehlen but there were no sure things as three-year starting quarterback Oliver Luck had graduated magna cum laude five months after leading a win in the 1981 Peach Bowl. His expected replacement was a big-armed junior transfer from Penn State named Jeff Hostetler. In one of the most important games ever played by WVU, Hoss threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns as the Mountaineers powered back from an early 14-0 deficit to take a lead into halftime. A Hostetler touchdown to Wayne Brown gave the Mountaineers the lead for good and Curlin Beck's 43-yard scamper with just over two minutes left iced a 41-27 victory for Nehlen's charges.

West Virginia and Oklahoma did not meet again until 2008 on January 2 to decide the Fiesta Bowl. This came on the heels of a particularly painful loss for the Mountaineers in the final week of the season that bounced them from the national title conversation. Oklahoma was led by redshirt freshman phenom Sam Bradford under center and, with WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez already departed for Michigan, the Sooners were considered the favorites by almost the entire country.

However, WVU rallied behind the inspiring speech of interim head coach Bill Stewart and ultimately came to play in its second BCS game in three years. Starting with a pair of Pat McAfee field goals in the first quarter, the underdogs never trailed and with over 150 yards passing and rushing from Pat White combined with a breakout performance by freshman Noel Devine in the place of an injured Steve Slaton, the Mountaineers left no doubt on the field that winter night in Arizona, coming away with a 48-28 win over Oklahoma.

The first conference meeting between the Mountaineers and Sooners was a nail biter in Morgantown on a dry but chilly night at Milan Puskar Stadium. 

Tavon Austin put together one of the single best performances in WVU football history. With 344 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 82 yards receiving, and 146 yards on kick returns, the Dunbar High School graduate totaled 572 yards from scrimmage and managed to keep WVU in the game until the very end. Supplemented by 205 yards and four touchdowns by Stedman Bailey, the Mountaineer offense did everything it could to win the game. Unfortunately for the fans that night, the WVU defense was, generously, having a rough season under new co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. More critically, it was a cheap wooden fence trying to hold up against the hurricane-force winds that are Big 12 offenses. Future Pittsburgh Steeler Landry Jones nearly matched Austin with his passing totals alone, running up 556 yards and six touchdowns, including the game-winning score with just 24 seconds left in the game. Despite some all-time great performances, WVU fell at the hands of the Sooners, 50-49.

The 2013 game between WVU and Oklahoma was an unfortunate stroke of events for the Mountaineers. Taking place early in the season, WVU was still trying to replace Geno Smith and Paul Millard was doing his best to fill those shoes. The offense struggled to put anything sustained together while Trevor Knight capably managed the game for the Sooners. Brennan Clay paced a strong Oklahoma rushing attack with 170 yards while Damien Williams tacked 95 of his own. A huge run by Dreamius Smith got WVU on the board first, 7-0, but no more points would come for the visitors on that day. Oklahoma picked up 16 straight from that point on and Oklahoma used a 16-7 win to start a new winning streak in the series.

The following year, the series moved back to Morgantown but the momentum did not. This would be a game dominated by one name and one name only: Samaje Perine. The running back was a beast from the time he hit campus in Norman and this game was a coming-out party of sorts. With a whopping 34 carries going his way, Perine racked up an enormous 244 yards and four touchdowns as the Sooner offense put up 45 points on the day. A resurgent Clint Trickett did everything in his power to hold things together, but the defense did him no favors in the process. After halftime, little went the way of the Mountaineers as Oklahoma outscored WVU 21-9 after sitting at a 24-24 tie after 30 minutes. The rushing attack was too much to overcome and WVU dropped its third straight, 45-33.

The 2015 matchup in Norman was not kind to the Mountaineers either. Wendell Smallwood broke the century mark on the ground as part of a 258-yard rushing attack but Skyler Howard did not have his best day in gold and blue. Throwing for only 173 yards, the Texas native took seven sacks from a stout Sooner pass rush and threw three interceptions to all but shut down the WVU offense. On top of those three turnovers, Nick O'Toole was forced to punt seven times while Baker Mayfield engineered four touchdown drives while throwing for 320 yards. WVU tried to make things interesting with a 17-point effort in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 10 but Oklahoma tightened up and did not allow a point in the fourth quarter. With the Sooners adding ten points of there own in that final frame, the Mountaineers fell by a score of 44-24.

Back in Morgantown a year later, things got even worse for WVU as the series bent squarely in the favor of Oklahoma. This game was totally dominated by the Oklahoma running game. With two NFL-caliber backs behind Mayfield, the Sooners totaled 316 yards on the ground with 160 yards and two touchdowns from Samaje Perine combined with 147 yards and another score out of Joe Mixon. Justin Crawford put together 331 yards to keep WVU in the fight for a while but Howard's inefficient play slowed the WVU offense down too much to get things going. Oklahoma ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and had a commanding 34-7 lead at the half. The Mountaineers were able to keep up for the most part in the second half but the damage had already been done. Once things started going downhill, WVU was not built to climb back and with a final of 56-28, OU beat the Mountaineers for the fifth straight time.

2017 was not the showing against the Sooners that WVU was hoping for. With Will Grier suffering a broken finger a week earlier against Texas, Chris Chugunov was called upon to fill in for the remainder of the season. With his first start being at Oklahoma, he was decidedly unimpressive. Throwing for just 137 yards on 10 of 20 attempts, the offense struggled to move the ball through the air. Kennedy McKoy had a strong effort to keep things respectable, putting up 144 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Rodney Anderson dueled his Mountaineer counterpart with 120 yards of his own and four touchdowns to go with 281 yards and three touchdowns by the soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Mayfield. Oklahoma put the game away decidedly in the first half and with Chugunov under center, not much could be done to bring the team back. With a final of 59-31, WVU fell to 2-8 in the series.

The most recent game between WVU and Oklahoma was filled full of missed opportunities for the Mountaineers. The game quickly devolved into a duel between two Heisman candidates in Will Grier and Kyler Murray. Grier outpaced Murray through the air with 539 yards and four touchdowns as opposed to Murray's 364 and three touchdowns. However, OU's dual-threat quarterback also added 114 yards and a touchdown on the ground to complement the 182-yard effort by Kennedy Brooks. Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, and Leddie Brown combined for a balanced WVU rushing attack and the game was a high-scoring affair across the board. Nonetheless, a key sack-fumble on Grier gave the Sooners a defensive touchdown and all the momentum as the tide swung in the favor of the visitors. Pettaway added a late touchdown but it was not enough as the Sooners headed back to Norman with a 59-56 win.

WVU’s history against Oklahoma has not been one if it’s most successful series. Without a win since joining the Big 12, it’s been tough going against the Sooners in recent years. As a massive underdog on Saturday, it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers allow history to repeat itself.

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