It is hard to blame the defense following West Virginia’s 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Not for the most part, at least.
They held Oklahoma State senior quarterback Mason Rudolph to 216 passing yards on 20-of-34 passing, marking his lowest total in a game since last season. He entered the game with the most passing yards in the country.
And Rudolph tossed just his fifth interception of the season, which was returned by true freshman Kenny Robinson for a score. That was one of WVU’s two scores (14 of its 39 points) that were non-offensive touchdowns.
Rudolph and the Cowboys offense did not look like themselves. They entered with a prolific attack, and despite putting up 50 points, it was not the usual explosiveness that college football is accustomed to watching from that program.
That’s not to say the defense played perfect. They missed some tackles. They made some mistakes. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson was not thrilled with his group.
But they did force the Cowboys into trouble they typically do not face.
Oklahoma State committed four turnovers, giving WVU excellent opportunities to capitalize. Redshirt sophomore linebacker David Long dominated with 18 tackles and seven tackles for loss, which is the most in WVU program history.
Yet the offense did not answer. The offensive line struggled. Passes were dropped. Things were out of sync on that side of the ball.
The players and coaches would be the first to admit it.
Although players were not available to speak following the game, Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital knew his group could have done more. So did Head Coach Dana Holgorsen.
WVU’s offense only scored seven points from the four turnovers the defense forced. That’s a substantial difference compared to the 27 points Oklahoma State scored off the Mountaineers’ five giveaways.
"The defense gets out there and creates some things and gets us the ball, and we can’t even get a first down," Holgorsen said. "We turn around and we give it right back to them. It’s just bad."
Redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier threw four interceptions, which is the most in his college career and the first time he tossed multiple interceptions in a game. Grier went 20-of-42 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, ending his national-best streak of seven games throwing for 300-plus yards to start the year.
"Not his best day," Spavital said. "He thought he was off on a few throws, which I think we all saw that."
The running game also had a hard time finding success. Senior Justin Crawford, who remains "banged up" according to the coaches, had 45 yards on 13 carries.
It was Crawford’s third straight game where he struggled, coming off performances of 47 and 30 yards against Texas Tech and Baylor, respectively. He started off the season with five straight contests of 100-plus yards.
"We need to get him healthy and get him out there and get to the point where he can start having those games again," Spavital said.
Behind him, sophomore Kennedy McKoy did rush for a score, but averaged just more than three yards per carry (30 yards on nine touches). Fellow sophomore Martell Pettaway registered zero yards on one carry.
It may have just been one of those games for the offense. They shined for most of this year. Grier and junior receiver David Sills were pretty much at the top of college football.
But the offense unexpectedly sputtered. And the gauntlet does not get much easier, with a challenging test against No. 14 Iowa State, who is 6-2 overall, amidst a four-game winning streak, in first place in the Big 12 and has two wins over top five opponents.
Avoiding the same mistakes and getting back to what it was entering Saturday’s loss will be key for WVU’s offense if the team is to get back on track entering the final four games of the regular season.