With the first score, on the first drive of the game, Oklahoma defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles was lined up seven yards deep against one of the best wide receivers in the country.
On third-and-seven, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier looked to change his offensive line’s protection at the line of scrimmage. He saw what looked like two blitzing linebackers over the top of OU’s three-down defensive linemen.
However, Grier might have checked a route combination to his right with wide receiver David Sills V lined up in the slot against Radley-Hiles.
The mismatch was hard to ignore in size. Radley-Hiles is listed at 5-foot-8, and Sills is listed a 6-foot-4.
Sills is the latest in a series of 6-foot-3-plus wide receivers who have bullied the Sooners over the course of the season including Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler, Baylor’s Jalen Hurd, Texas’ Lil Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson and Texas Tech’s Antoine Wesley.
At the snap, Grier took his drop, held the safety playing centerfield with his eyes and didn’t hesitate. The route combination meant corner back Tre Brown ran with the crossing route across the middle and Radley-Hiles was left to try to drop his hips and run with Sills who was already at full-speed when Grier lobbed a 41-yard bomb.
This was a great play-call, a great quarterback, a great wide receiver and the exact coverage WVU wanted for the play.
Radley-Hiles never had a chance.
Plays like that one continued to make the Mountaineers into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain. They Oklahoma’s secondary in the shredder.
By the night’s end, Oklahoma would give up more than 700 yards of offense, and 539 of them came off the arm of Grier.
As if Sills’ outing was not bad enough for OU, Mountaineer wide receiver Gary Jennings put up the fourth-straight 200-yard performance by a non-quarterback against the defense and became the third wide receiver in the past four weeks to put together a 200-yard receiving performance against the OU secondary.
While most believe corner backs Tre Norwood and Tre Brown played well and safety Robert Barnes perhaps had the best day of any player in the secondary, there were just too many gaffes by true freshmen Delarrin Turner-Yell and Radley-Hiles.
Some of can be attributed to age an experience. Both Turner-Yell and Radley-Hiles are the youngest starting members of a puppy secondary, and Radley-Hiles is playing out of position.
He was recruited to Oklahoma as a five-star cover corner back. When he made the move to the nickel back position, there were some raised eyebrows among fans.
The same could be said of defensive backs Justin Broiles and Jordan Parker who both made the move to safety with Radley-Hiles in 2018. Injuries and scheme were the primary reason the players made the move.
Oklahoma was quite simply deeper at corner back than safety to start the season with injuries to Turner-Yell, Prentice McKinney and Chanse Sylive. However, the move for Radley-Hiles has been widely criticized, and those criticisms were deafening against WVU.
This also added fuel to the blazing opinion that the Big 12 does not produce great defensive backs. For places like Texas, this is flat-out false.
The Longhorns boast four starters in their secondary that will play on Sundays and one outstanding true freshman safety in Caden Sterns. Still, when USA Today put together its list of the top defensive backs in the country, no Big 12 defender made the primary list and only Iowa State’s Brian Peavy was mentioned.
With the way the Big 12 throws the ball around the yard, though, you cannot say that defensive backs will not have opportunities to be great.
I asked the parent of a four-star corner back recruit what he thought of the Oklahoma’s defensive performance against the Mountaineer passing attack.
“As a parent of a DB,” the parent said, “how can you not love the Big12, man? They go at the corners and you have to show you can ball. That’s what we love!”
So if you want the challenge, the Big 12 is a place to see what you’re made of as a defensive back.
As for Radley-Hiles, he’s in much the same boat as middle linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. was a year ago.
He’s playing a position he’s never played before at the highest level of college football. He’s going to have growing pains.
With Murray, the lightbulb came on a year later and now he is OU’s best defender. For Radley-Hiles, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be one of OU’s best in 2019.