By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
MORGANTOWN, W.V. — For the second time, in three years Oklahoma and West Virginia traded offensive haymakers at Puskar Stadium.
The difference between Saturday night and its 2012 predecessor was the fourth-ranked Sooners had the better running back and the better defense.
Freshman running back Samaje Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns, while the Sooners’ defense tightened like a python in the second half in the 45-33 victory over the Mountaineers.
OU entered the game a running back short. Keith Ford, who was its leading rusher going into the game, stayed at home with a foot injury.
Perine, who averaged 10.3 carries per game, knew going into the game he would be an enhanced part of the game plan.
“I was prepared to do what I had to do,” Perine said. “I thought I could get out there and get more carries than I have been getting.”
Try more than three times as many.
The Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) handed it to the powerful freshman 34 times, including nine of the last 10 times they snapped the ball. The string was broken when OU got into the victory formation and quarterback Trevor Knight took a knee on the final snap.
The 245-pound freshman had already beaten the Mountaineers into submission.
“You know how powerful and strong he is, but he has great vision,” OU coach bob Stoops said. “He had a sensational night. I’m proud of the offensive line and the big blocks that they gave us.”
It wasn’t the Sooners’ greatest game, defensively. The group that had allowed 10 first-half points in the first three games, was scorched for 24 Saturday.
West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 376 yards. Most of it came in the first half, including touchdowns passes of 68 yards to Kevin White and 30 yards to Mario Alford.
When the Mountaineers added a 5-yard touchdown run by Rushel Shell to go up 24-17 with 80 seconds left in the half, the Sooners were reeling.
Then Alex Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and OU didn’t allow another touchdown until Dreamius Smith scored on a 4-yard run with a little over two minutes remaining.
“We knew they weren’t going to lay down for us just because we’re Oklahoma,” safety Quentin Hayes said. “We just pulled together, came off the ball and played more physical.”
The Sooners were a different team in the second half. Putting the offense on Perine’s broad shoulders was a big reason.
Quarterback Trevor Knight didn’t have the greatest of nights. He was 16 for 29 for 205 yards. He didn’t have a touchdown pass for the first time this season. However, he did catch one on a 4-yard toss from wide receiver Durron Neal.
OU only threw the ball nine times in the second half and just once in the fourth quarter.
The Sooners put the game on the offensive line and Perine and they delivered.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel didn’t know Perine had received that many carries when the game was over.
“He’s a great player. He’s a mature player. You saw him in the four-minute drill pick up a first down and stay inbounds,” the playcaller said. “He’s a load, you know what I mean?”
Perine became the first OU freshman to run for more than 200 yards in a game since Adrian Peterson in 2004. It was that kind of performance, especially in the fourth quarter.
But what allowed OU to pull away was that the Mountaineers stopped scoring in the second half. The momentum clearly shifted on Ross’ kickoff return.
It didn’t seem very important at the time, but Zack Sanchez picked off Trickett in the final seconds of the half.
It was the first of three the Sooners forced in the final 31 minutes.
“It’s all about momentum,” said safety Quinton Hayes, who also had an interception. “We were the road team and we had to do things to keep the crowd out of it. That momentum was important for us.”
It was to West Virginia, too. It left the first half feeling like it had blown its shot at an upset.
“I thought we played good enough in the second quarter to be able to seize the momentum,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Every time we had some success they came right back. That’s the sign of a good team.”
At the very least it was the sign of a resilient one. The Sooners weren’t dominant by any stretch. Too inconsistent throwing the ball or getting stops for that to be the case.
However, in the second half in a very hostile environment, they were at their best.
“There’s a tone we have to get better at,” Stoops said. “It comes at a great time because we have (next) week off. Our guys see that. There’s a lot we can improve on, but we still found a way to come in here and win.”