NORMAN, Okla. — It was not going to take a nearly perfect effort to beat the West Virginia University football team on Saturday, but Jalen Hurts still tried.
Hurts, Oklahoma’s outstanding graduate transfer quarterback, only threw one incomplete pass all day and accounted for five touchdowns as the No. 5 Sooners blasted the visiting Mountaineers 52-14 at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Against WVU on Saturday, Hurts completed 16 of 17 pass attempts for 316 yards with three touchdowns and zero turnovers. He also ran the ball 10 times for 75 yards with two scores on the ground.
“[Hurts’] ability to ad-lib and move in the pocket — I thought he was really accurate when he was on the move today and that makes him really tough to defend,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I think he’s special, I really do. There’s a reason — look at his high school record, it’s pretty strong. You look at his record at Alabama, look at his win percentage. Then he’s yet to lose here. The kid’s a winner. He’s a big-time player.”
It took a few drives for the powerful Oklahoma offense to get rolling, but once it did the Mountaineers struggled to find an answer to slow the Sooners down, let alone stop them.
The teams traded punts on their first possessions, followed by WVU going three-and-out and punting the ball back to OU for a second time. Hurts went to work, leading Oklahoma (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) on an eight-play, 66-yard drive that finished with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Hall. WVU (3-4, 1-3) answered with three consecutive incomplete passes and another punt.
Hurts and the Sooners only needed four plays to cover 74 yards on the following series, with a 6-yard Hurts pass to Charleston Rambo and an extra point making it 14-0.
West Virginia found a little bit of momentum on offense in the second quarter. Redshirt junior quarterback Austin Kendall, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, led WVU on a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by a catch-and-run 38-yard touchdown to receiver T.J. Simmons — who scored both of the Mountaineers’ touchdowns Saturday and finished with six catches for 74 yards. WVU converted two fourth-down attempts on the drive — a successful fake punt on the final play of the first quarter and the touchdown pass to Simmons.
“[Simmons] looked like he belonged,” Brown said. “I think we had a few guys who looked like they belonged. He’s not scared of the moment. He’s got great courage, he’s physical.”
The Sooners, however, did not blink. Hurts marched OU back down the field before running back Kennedy Brooks went around the end for a 9-yard touchdown on a drive that took just 2:49 seconds to move 75 yards.
Quick scoring drives were a theme for OU against West Virginia all day. The next time Oklahoma had the ball, Hurts moved the Sooners 57 yards on three plays and called his own number on a 2-yard touchdown run to put OU ahead 28-7.
“I do feel like we are starting to develop a sense of that offensively — that you have to go answer,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “I think that we are starting to develop on all sides of the ball. There have been some of those key drives from plays before where maybe the offense didn’t score or we needed to get a stop, so I think this team senses that a little bit right now. We have been able to raise our game up in those key moments.”
West Virginia ate up the rest of the clock in the half with a methodical drive that finished with Simmons’ second touchdown catch of the day and sent the teams to the locker rooms with OU leading 28-14.
WVU looked better in the second quarter than it did in the first, but like each of the last two weeks, the third quarter is when the game turned on the Mountaineers. OU rattled off 21 points in the third quarter — a 22-yard run by Hurts, a 46-yard pass from Hurts to Lee Morris and a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Austin Stonger — to effectively put the game out of reach before a fourth-quarter field goal set the final score.
“Championship-level football team over there in the other locker room,” Brown said. “Credit to Lincoln, their staff, their players — I think they’ve got all the ingredients to make a run at it.
“It was a struggle all day for us. We got outplayed, and honestly we were outmanned at several positions and in several areas. For this to be a competitive game, we needed to play clean, which we didn’t. We needed to be able to run the ball, which we couldn’t. We had to force some turnovers, which we didn’t, and we had to minimize their explosive plays and we didn’t do it.
“All the things we needed to do to make this a four-quarter, competitive football game to put us in a position at the end of the game — we just weren’t able to do it. It’s not all on our coaches and it’s not all on our players. A lot of it has to do with [Oklahoma]. They’ve got really good players, and great players, at some positions.”
In his homecoming to Oklahoma, Kendall threw for 182 yards while completing 15 of 31 pass attempts with the two touchdown to Simmons. Kendall left last week’s game against Iowa State with a chest injury and was questionable for Saturday against the Sooners prior to being announced as the starter by Brown on his Thursday radio show.
“He’s beat up a little bit, but he had an upper body kind of muscle injury in that game against Iowa State,” Brown said of Kendall. “He was plenty healthy enough to play. I thought he had good zip on the ball. I wasn’t going to play him if I felt like he didn’t have his normal velocity on the ball, but he had it today. We tried to keep the hits off of him, and I know he took a couple, but we tried to make sure that we didn’t expose him in this game.”
As has often been the case this season, running the ball was not West Virginia’s strong point on Saturday. The Mountaineers attempted 30 runs for a total of 51 yards with sophomore running back Leddie Brown logging a team-high 28 yards on 16 carries.
“It is what it is,” Neal Brown said of the WVU run game. “We’ve tried about everything. It was going to be a struggle. When we play against some really good people, we’re playing young guys that are just not as physically mature as some of the guys we are playing. What happens is, you get 2 or 3 yards per carry but then when you have a negative play — whether its a negative run or a procedure penalty — then those 3 yards aren’t good enough.
“We’ve got to do better. I think we will be better finishing the year, but it’s not going to be a position of strength until our guys get older and we’re able to make some personnel changers.”
For Oklahoma, Hurts’ 75 rushing yards was a team-high with Brooks going for 70 yards on 10 carries with the one touchdown.
“[Hurts] played pretty good,” Riley said. “He saw things well the majority of the game. He had a good understanding of how we wanted to attack them and made some nice play decisions in scramble situations.”
Oklahoma plays at Kansas State next week, while the Mountaineers are off until a Thursday game on Halloween at Baylor.