Oklahoma football turned to its old friend, running the football, and ran it down West Virginia’s throat for a good part of Saturday night’s showdown with No. 10 West Virginia, turning four turnovers into 28 points in a 56-28 rout of the self-destructive Mountaineers.
Nov 19, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs the ball during the second quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
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Oklahoma led by a comfortable 35-7 at the half after piling up 241 yards on the ground. Perine and Mixon both exceeded the 100-yard barrier in the opening 30 minutes.
West Virginia was able to advance the ball in the opening half, but because of two forced fumbles inside the OU 10-yard line and several costly personal foul penalties the Mountaineers found themselves down by 28 points at the intermission despite totaling 259 yards of offense themselves.
The Sooners added to their lead with an interception of West Virginia quarterback Skylar Howard by linebacker Jordan Evans, who took off for the other end of the field and did not stop until he reached the end zone with an 80-yard pick six. That put Oklahoma up 41-7 just two minutes into into the third quarter and the Mountaineers appeared to be dead and buried in the biggest game to be played at Milan Puskar Stadium in over two decades.
In the inimitable words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: Not so fast. Howard and the West Virginia offense finally came to life in the third quarter and fourth quarters.
After Evans interception return for a TD, the West Virginia defense finally lived up to its Big 12-leading defense, shutting down the Sooners on their next four possessions, resulting in three punts and an interception of a Baker Mayfield pass, all while putting up 21 unanswered points to close within 41-28 with over 10 minutes remaining to be played in the game.
Nov 19, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) celebrates after beating the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma responded with a 65-yard touchdown drive that took more than five minutes off the game clock, and they added a final score with under a minute to go in the game to finish out the scoring and win their 15th consecutive Big 12 game.
Oklahoma upped its Big 12-leading record to a perfect 8-0, with only a Dec. 3 Bedlam showdown against Oklahoma State standing between the Sooners and a 10th Big 12 championship and second in as many seasons.
Mayfield and Dede Westbrook were barely a factor in this game as Mayfield spent most of the chilly night in Morgantown handing the ball off to Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who carried the ball a combined 55 times for 307 rushing yards.
As prolific as Perine and Mixon were in gashing the West Virginia defense on the ground, Mountaineer junior running back did them one better, gaining 331 rushing yards by himself and averaging 13.8 yards every time he toted the football.
West Virginia actually outgained the Sooners in the game (579 to 485) and Howard had more passing yards than Mayfield and the Sooners (191 to 161). In the end, the four West Virginia turnovers (three fumbles and an interception) proved very costly and put the Mountaineers in catch-up mode the entire evening.
Mayfield threw only 15 passes all night, completing nine, including touchdown passes to Westbrook and Jeffery Mead.
The Sooners also won the possession game, controlling the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes in the game.
Oklahoma will have next week off and a extra week to get ready for what now becomes the de facto Big 12 championship. It will be the first time the Sooners will have the opportunity to play for the conference championship at home in front of 85,000-plus Sooner faithful.