Oklahoma keeps CFP hopes alive, advances to Big 12 title game with wild win over West Virginia

Oklahoma quarterback <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/255122/" data-ylk="slk:Kyler Murray">Kyler Murray</a> (1) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

In a game where it gave up 56 points and 704 yards, No. 6 Oklahoma ultimately beat No. 13 West Virginia with its defense.

The only way the Sooners could keep Will Grier and the WVU offense out of the end zone was by forcing turnovers. And that’s exactly what they did.

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The Sooners twice forced Grier fumbles that were returned for touchdowns in a 59-56 victory — one that keeps Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff hopes alive while setting up a rematch with rival Texas in the Big 12 title game.

The first defensive touchdown — a great individual effort by Caleb Kelly — extended OU’s lead to 35-21 late in the first half. The second was far more important.

The Sooners had just taken a 52-49 lead when Kenneth Mann hit Grier hard as he was about to throw. The ball popped into the air and was scooped by Curtis Bolton, who took it 48 yards for a touchdown. It proved to be the winning score.

(via ESPN)
(via ESPN)

Bolton’s TD return came after a peculiar penalty on WVU

Both offenses had no issue picking up huge amounts of yardage on seemingly every play.

On the first play after OU went up 52-49, West Virginia running back Kennedy McKoy reeled off a huge run all the way down to the 3-yard line. However, it was called back to the 43 because of a personal foul penalty on West Virginia receiver T.J. Simmons.

Simmons was penalized for blocking an Oklahoma cornerback several yards out of bounds. Here’s the play:


Instead of having first-and-goal with the chance to retake the lead, West Virginia was back near midfield. And on the very next play, Grier fumbled on the hit by Mann and Bolton scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown for the Sooners.

It’s not a penalty you see called often, but it was called correctly, much to the chagrin of West Virginia fans. From the NCAA rule book:

Late Hit, Action Out of Bounds
ARTICLE 7. a. There shall be no piling on, falling on or throwing the body
on an opponent after the ball becomes dead (A.R. 9-1-7-I).
b. No opponent shall tackle or block the runner when he is clearly out of
bounds or throw him to the ground after the ball becomes dead.
c. It is illegal for any player to be clearly out of bounds when he initiates a
block against an opponent who is out of bounds. The spot of the foul is
where the blocker crosses the sideline in going out of bounds.

What does this mean for Oklahoma?

The win puts the Sooners into the Big 12 title game, where they will meet rival Texas, who beat Kansas earlier in the day to advance to next weekend’s championship game in Arlington. Oklahoma has just one loss this season and it came against the Longhorns on a last-second field goal back on Oct. 6. Since then, the Sooners have reeled off six consecutive victories.

More importantly, with one loss, Oklahoma is the Big 12’s only hope to reach the College Football Playoff. OU entered the weekend as the No. 6 team in the country, so it would need some help to move up in the rankings after this weekend. Beyond that, OU obviously can’t afford to lose to the Longhorns if it wants to get back to the four-team playoff.

It’s very clear that Oklahoma’s offense — led by Heisman candidate Kyler Murray — is performing at a high level, but the defense is a major concern. Would the CFP selection committee view Oklahoma in a more negative light than other one-loss teams because of that defense? No. 8 Washington State’s loss to Washington helps Oklahoma’s cause. Even if No. 10 Ohio State beats No. 4 Michigan, OSU has had defensive issues much like Oklahoma. Plus, OSU has a worse loss (Purdue) than the Sooners. It’s hard to envision OSU moving past OU.

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