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Scaling the Mountain – The Official Site of Oklahoma Sooner Sports

NORMAN — Preventing the explosive Oklahoma offense from scoring is demoralizing enough, but imagine the difficulty when the Sooners’ defense also finds the end zone. Not once, but twice.

West Virginia endured precisely that Friday night in Morgantown as OU outlasted the Mountaineers 59-56 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

In addition to six touchdowns and one field goal from the Sooners’ offense, their defense added a pair of touchdowns on fumble returns.

With the outcome, the No. 6-ranked Sooners now get a shot at winning an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 Conference title.

OU (11-1 overall, 8-1 Big 12) has an opportunity to avenge its lone loss of the season when it faces Texas (9-3, 7-2) in the Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday at 11 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Longhorns won the season’s previous meeting 48-45 on a 40-yard field goal with :09 remaining at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

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

“I don’t have a comment on that, I really don’t,” OU junior redshirt quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray said of the rematch. “But I’ll be ready to go.”

The Sooners’ two defensive touchdowns came while sacking West Virginia quarterback and Heisman candidate Will Grier. It marked the first time since 2011 against Texas that OU scored two defensive touchdowns in the same game (it had two fumble returns and one interception return in that contest).

“They were critical,” Riley said of the defensive scores. “I thought our lack of secondary depth showed a little bit tonight. Some things that we wanted to do, and even tried to do having several of those guys out (due to injuries), we were affected by. It was certainly, probably the worst week of the year to have some of those guys out, just with how good West Virginia is in the throw game.”

Sooners junior linebacker Caleb Kelly sacked Grier, forced a fumble and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give OU a 35-21 lead. It was Kelly’s second career fumble return for a touchdown (the other coming on TCU’s first play from scrimmage in the 2017 Big 12 Championship Game). He led the Sooners on Friday with a career-high 14 tackles (nine solo, five assists).

In the fourth quarter, OU fifth-year senior linebacker Curtis Bolton returned a fumble forced by defensive end Kenneth Mann for a touchdown. Last week against Kansas, Bolton returned a blocked punt 9 yards for a score.

Though their much-maligned defense allowed 40-plus points for the fourth straight game, the Sooners still have managed to go unbeaten in that span.

“Making some of those big plays it feels like we’ve been so close to making all year … to be able to make some of those in the biggest moments, they came through,” Riley said. “I think our defense, absolutely our guys want to get better, but they also know we’re all in this together and we found a way to win 11 of them together. And now we’ve got to go find a way to win 12.”

On this night, the Sooners’ defense surrendered 704 total yards and eight touchdowns, yet undeniably was still a key component to the victory.

“Came up huge,” Murray said of the OU defense. “They picked me up, picked the offense up when we didn’t get the job done and that’s how it’s got to be. We know as a team, we’re at our best when we’re all clicking.”

Once again, the Sooners’ offense was overpowering.

For the eighth straight game and the 10th time this season, OU gained at least 500 total yards and this time amassed 668 yards on 65 plays, an average gain of 10.3 yards per play.

Murray continued his spectacular push to become OU’s seventh Heisman winner, completing 20 of 27 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown on just nine carries (12.7 average). It was his second game of 350 yards passing and 100 yards rushing.

Murray has accounted for 48 total touchdowns this season (37 passing, 11 rushing). It was his eighth 300-yard passing game this season and the ninth game with at least three touchdown passes.

“He’s awesome,” Riley said of Murray for the umpteenth time this season.

On a fourth-and-5 play from the Mountaineers’ 40-yard line with 2:36 remaining in the contest, Riley made a gutsy decision to go for the first down up 59-56 and Murray wound up with a critical 8-yard completion to receiver CeeDee Lamb.

“It felt like it was the right thing to do,” Riley explained. “There was enough time, and with us having three timeouts. Just the way the game’s going, I just didn’t want to give them the ball back. And I felt like we had a great chance to get it. And then, also thinking, if for some reason we don’t get it, we’ve got some timeouts to use. If we hold them, we’re good. If they’re able to score, we can either use some timeouts throughout the drive to give us time with the ball back. I wanted us to be the last ones with the ball, either way. And that was the only way to guarantee it.”

Murray said of Riley’s decision, “At that point, I’m right there with him. You can’t play hesitant, can’t play scared. He had the trust in me to call the play.”

OU sealed the victory two plays later on a Murray 17-yard scamper for a first down.

“It was fun,” Murray said afterward. “Honestly, there’s no other way to describe it. A lot of nerves, but at the end of the day, this is how we like it.”

The Sooners have scored at least 45 points in a school-record eight consecutive games (the longest same-season streak by an FBS team since at least 1980) and Friday was seventh game this season with at least 50 points. Since 2015, OU leads the nation with 22 games of scoring at least half-a-hundred.

With his cousin, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, watching from the sideline, OU junior wide receiver Marquise Brown had 243 receiving yards (second most in program history) and two touchdowns on 11 receptions (22.1 average). It was Brown’s second career 200-yard receiving game (career-high 265 against Oklahoma State last year), joining Ryan Broyles and Dede Westbrook as the only OU players with multiple 200-yard career receiving games.

OU redshirt freshman running back Kennedy Brooks rushed for a career-high 182 yards on 21 carries (8.7 average) and included a 68-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter.

The Sooners and Mountaineers have manufactured some of the most explosive games in college football history, and Friday night was the highest-scoring game in the series with 115 points, which also were the third most combined points in OU history.

“We fought our tails off,” Riley said. “It was just hard, and as physical as we’ve played consistently all year. You just got to find ways to win these, man.”

The Sooners have yet to lose to West Virginia (7-0) since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012.

OU has now won 20 straight true road games, a streak Riley described as “hard to fathom.” It is the longest active true road streak in the country and tied with Miami (1984-88) and Ohio State (2012-16) for the longest streak since at least 1980.

The Sooners also have won 17 straight November games dating back to Nov. 8, 2014, and have won 33 of their last 35 games against Big 12 opponents.

Entering the final week of the season, the Sooners’ biggest goals remain intact – a shot at their 12th Big 12 championship and a chance for their third College Football Playoff appearance in the last four seasons while trying to capture the program’s eighth national title.

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