De­fen­sive touch­downs boost Soon­ers

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Chuck Culpep­per The Wash­ing­ton Post

MOR­GAN­TOWN, W.Va. — In a rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the rad­i­cal idea that foot­ball de­fend­ers are still al­lowed to make key plays dur­ing the year 2018, Ok­la­homa’s de­fense sud­denly did so late Fri­day night.

Some­how that de­fense, that jalopy still per­mit­ted to join quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray’s daz­zling vroom of an of­fense on road trips and pre­sum­ably even at prac­tice, sud­denly forged a heap of re­al­i­ties at 9:58 to clos­ing time in this Big 12 mar­quee late-sea­son bo­nanza.

It gave Ok­la­homa the nod in a fes­ti­val of yardage at Mi­lan Puskar Sta­dium, sent it to­ward a 59-56 win, helped push the Soon­ers to a funky 11-1, se­cured a place in quite a Big 12 cham­pi­onship game next week op­po­site No. 11 Texas and, good grief, kept the No. 6 Soon­ers plau­si­bly in the puz­zle for the four-team Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

“We’ll cer­tainly be ex­cited to play those guys,” Ok­la­homa coach Lin­coln Ri­ley said of the Longhorns. “But, more than any­thing, one huge goal we set out was we want to be the only team ever to win four of these in a row.”

The Soon­ers notched all this in a mo­ment, when de­fen­sive end Ken­neth Mann spun around West Vir­ginia quar­ter­back Will Grier, send­ing the ball fly­ing up­ward un­til it plopped down, some Moun­taineers muffed it, and line­backer Cur­tis Bolton took it 48 yards for a touch­down and a 59-49 lead.

Of all things, the play was Ok­la­homa’s sec­ond sack-fum­ble­touch­down of the stuffed-fat night, with line­backer Caleb Kelly hav­ing forged one way back in the first half — not that any­one might re­mem­ber that with ev­ery­thing else piled atop.

Grier said he was try­ing to throw the ball out of bounds when Mann hit him.

“They got to me quite a bit tonight,” Grier said. “To scoop and score both of those is pretty im­pres­sive on their part. They made some plays.”

That mot­ley play hardly fit in a game that had 1,372 to­tal yards (704 for West Vir­ginia), 200-yard re­ceivers on each side, plus an­other 100-yard re­ceiver for the Moun­taineers and two 100-yard rush­ers for the Soon­ers, but de­cide the game it did. De­fend­ers mat­tered! They mat­tered af­ter they barely seemed to ex­ist.

“When you score two touch­downs de­fen­sively, you like your chances,” Ri­ley said.

The night in­cluded a lead Ok­la­homa got at 38-35 through a bizarre en­deavor called a “field goal,” then lost at 42-38, then re­sumed at 45-42, then lost at 49-45, then re­sumed at 52-49.

Through all this lu­nacy, West Vir­ginia wide re­ceiver Gary Jen­nings Jr. caught 201 yards worth of passes — in the third quar­ter.

He caught a 57-yard touch­down pass from Grier, a mas­ter­ful 52yard pass on third-and-18 from Grier and a 75-yard touch­down on third-and-10 from Grier dur­ing which Jen­nings, like so many re­ceivers dur­ing the evening, ran alone be­hind help­less, hope­less, hap­less de­fend­ers.

That was on the other side of the field from such mat­ters as the time Ok­la­homa com­mit­ted the barely par­don­able sin of fac­ing third down from its 25-yard line, with 10 yards to go, while down 42-38. Mur­ray, whose own run­ning pro­duces ge­om­e­try that makes the eyes widen in­vol­un­tar­ily, faced a blitz and lofted a gor­geous thing with a high arc to Mar­quise Brown for 30 yards. Mur­ray then pitched one short across the mid­dle to Brown head­ing left­ward for 45 more and a touch­down.

It’s no won­der that with 2:36 left and Ok­la­homa lead­ing 59-56 and fac­ing fourth-and-5 from West Vir­ginia’s 40-yard line, Ri­ley went for it. Mur­ray backed up and looked and looked and looked, mov­ing around a bit be­fore hit­ting CeeDee Lamb with a low 8-yard pass.

It left the No. 13 Moun­taineers (8-3, 6-3) to lament that just two plays be­fore the fum­ble re­turn that quelled the party, run­ning back Kennedy McKoy had bar­reled all the way to the Ok­la­homa 2-yard line, only to have the play dented se­verely by a per­sonal foul when wide re­ceiver T.J. Sim­mons kept block­ing a de­fender while both of them were so far out of bounds, they were al­most in Ken­tucky.

The fine oc­ca­sion of 21st-cen­tury foot­ball had brought to­gether the No. 1 to­tal of­fense (Ok­la­homa), the No. 10 to­tal of­fense (West Vir­ginia), the No. 56 to­tal de­fense (West Vir­ginia), the No. 88 to­tal de­fense (Ok­la­homa), the No. 91 pass de­fense (West Vir­ginia) and the No. 107 pass de­fense (Ok­la­homa). It would yield 243 re­ceiv­ing yards for Brown, 225 for Jen­nings, 131 for West Vir­ginia’s David Sills V, 182 rush­ing yards for Ok­la­homa’s Kennedy Brooks, 114 yards on the ground for Mur­ray, 539 pass­ing yards for Grier and 364 for Mur­ray on a splen­did 20 for 27.

The game be­gan. West Vir­ginia trav­eled 75 yards to score. Ok­la­homa trav­eled 81 yards to score. So West Vir­ginia trav­eled 75 yards to score. So Ok­la­homa trav­eled 72 yards to score. An eter­nity of 91 sec­onds still re­mained in the first quar­ter, and al­ready Sills had a mean 41-yard touch­down catch on third down, Mur­ray had a hyp­notic 55-yard touch­down run af­ter look­ing hemmed in but then mak­ing the hem look ir­rel­e­vant, and Mur­ray had coun­tered a third down with a 25-yard touch­down pass to Brown cross­ing the back of the end zone.

Stops did come af­ter that, but only with caveats. Faced with the in­dig­nity of fourth-and-6 at the Ok­la­homa 10-yard line, West Vir­ginia coach Dana Hol­gorsen did what any­one with a log­i­cal mind would have done: He went for it. Grier’s pass missed, lend­ing his first 13 at­tempts an un­for­giv­able sec­ond in­com­ple­tion. Ok­la­homa went trav­el­ing un­til Mur­ray made the kind of 7-yard run he can turn into scin­til­la­tion, ex­cept David Long Jr. plucked the ball and made it spill up the field, where his team­mate David Robin­son col­lected it.

From there, West Vir­ginia punted, an­other eye-pop­ping sin.

By half­time, though, the teams had re­dis­cov­ered the script and reached 35-28 in fa­vor of Ok­la­homa, and two guys named Kennedy had scored: Ok­la­homa’s Brooks on a sear­ing 68-yard run through the mid­dle and up the left, and West Vir­ginia’s McKoy on a 1-yard run that capped an 81-yard drive that, at 13 plays, looked a tad plod­ding. In be­tween, a de­fender had been al­lowed to make a play, so Ok­la­homa’s Kelly did it. The line­backer ma­te­ri­al­ized through the line, al­low­able by the rules of the sport, and when Grier tried to run right­ward around Kelly, Kelly cor­ralled him and made the lat­ter spill the ball as he tried to bring it to his hip .

Kelly found it at the 10-yard line and scored a few strides later.

They were all about half­way done.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed for our se­niors. We fought hard and came up a lit­tle bit short,” Hol­gorsen said. “As well as we played of­fen­sively, giv­ing them 14 points is inex­cus­able.”

The Soon­ers re­main the only Big 12 team that West Vir­ginia hasn’t beaten since the Moun­taineers joined the league in 2012.

Ok­la­homa play­ers sang West Vir­ginia’s an­them, John Den­ver’s “Take Me Home, Coun­try Roads” on the way to the locker room af­ter the game.

“It was fun,” Mur­ray said. “There’s no other way to de­scribe it.” The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this story.

JUSTIN K. ALLER/GETTY IM­AGES

Line­backer Caleb Kelly of the Ok­la­homa Soon­ers re­cov­ers a fum­ble by West Vir­ginia quar­ter­back Will Grier and takes it 10 yards for a touch­down Fri­day at Moun­taineer Field in Mor­gan­town, W.Va. The vic­tory put the Soon­ers in the Big 12 ti­tle game against Texas, the only team to beat them.

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