By JOHN SHINN
MORGANTOWN, W.V. — Oklahoma’s defense laid an egg, but OU quarterback Landry Jones picked it up and made an omelet.
Jones was the difference in the 13th-ranked Sooners’ 50-49 victory over West Virginia on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Jones threw for a career and school record 554 yards and six touchdowns, including a 5-yard slant to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds left to give the Sooners the last lead in a game where the lead changed hands four times in the final 7 minutes.
“That was the kind of game, as a player, that you’re always going to remember when you come out on the right side of it,” Jones said. “… It was one of those times where the game was on the line and we were able to come through.”
It was Jones who engineered the 6-play, 54-yard drive that ended with the touchdown pass to Stills. The most important part of the drive was that OU managed to eat up 2 minutes, 17 seconds off the clock, only leaving the Mountaineers 24 seconds to answer.
A strong argument could be made that Jones wasn’t even the best player on the field Saturday.
West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) racked up 778 yards of total offense, nearly 150 more than OU had ever allowed in a game. Wide receiver/running back Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards and two touchdowns, had four catches for 82 yards and eight kickoff returns for 146 yards. His 572 all-purpose yards were 6 yards short of the all-time FBS record.
The Sooners had no answer for him.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knew Austin was a great receiver. He had 96 catches coming into the game. However, West Virginia used him almost exclusively as a running back. OU never adjusted.
“That might be the best performance I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a guy that fast, that quick and that elusive in space like that,” he said.
Austin didn’t shake loose until the second half. The Sooners were in complete control of the game and had a chance to put a dagger in the Mountaineers late in the first half.
The Sooners were up 31-17 and had a chance to grab a 21-point lead at the half. The crowd of 50,238 might have called it a night if OU would have punched in another touchdown or been drained further if Michael Hunnicutt’s 37-yard field goal attempt hadn’t sailed wide right.
Instead, the second-half shootout ensued.
West Virginia had the ball seven times in the second half, scoring five touchdowns. OU managed to force a turnover on downs late in the third quarter and batted down West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith’s Hail Mary heave at the end of the game.
Jones, who faced more criticism than any four-year starter in OU’s history, didn’t back down.
After the Mountaineers’ Stedman Bailey scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Smith, he led OU on a 7-play, 79-yard drive that ended with 7-yard TD pass to Stills.
After Bailey collected a 40-yard touchdown pass to return the lead to West Virginia, Jones responded yet again.
The 54-yard drive capped the first fourth-quarter comeback in Jones’ 47 career starts.
It all came down to the fourth-down play from the 5-yard line with 24 seconds to go. OU had just called a timeout to go over the final play. The meeting on the sideline ended up being meaningless. The Sooners were going to run a fade to Stills, who had 10 catches for 91 yards and four touchdowns. Jones saw the coverage and changed the play to a slant.
“We were confident the whole time,” Stills said. “I love getting the ball in the red zone. Landry trusts all the receivers and when he puts the ball up there, we’re gonna make a play.”
It didn’t come down to the team that had the ball last but it was pretty close.
The Sooners and Mountaineers combined for 1,440 yards of total offense with West Virginia accumulating 778 of it.
OU coach Bob Stoops could barely speak by the time the game ended. The game and cold he picked up on Friday had worn his voice down to a whisper.
“I am incredibly proud of the team to hold it together the way they did, and to come back,” he said. “Landry Jones, to lead those drives at the end of the game; such great precision, execution, throwing strikes, receivers making tough competitive catches — all of it together, really was just pleasing to come back and win a game away from home.”
The Sooners did it and will roll into next Saturday’s meeting with Oklahoma State with a hot offense, a three-game winning streak and bolstered chance of winning the Big 12 Conference, thanks to Kansas State’s loss to Baylor on Saturday.