When Keith Ford suffered a broken fibula against Tennessee last week, it seemed a virtual certainty Oklahoma's run game would suffer a bit of a drop off. While the Sooners had two very capable backs in Alex Ross and Samaje Perine, losing Ford was going to sting a bit.
Only, it didn't. Perine, a true freshman, literally put the Sooners on his broad shoulders, particularly in the second half when Oklahoma righted the ship after a wild and wacky first half with a dominating performance. It was more than enough for Oklahoma to move to 4-0 with a 45-33 win over West Virginia.
Perine finished the game with 242 yards on 34 carries and four touchdown runs. The 242 yards were the fourth-best rushing performance by an Oklahoma freshman in Sooners' history. What was more impressive was the 7.1 yards per carry Perine boasted on his 34 carries, a Herculean effort in an age where carries are extremely limited in order to extend the life of a running back.
It was a tale of two halves on Saturday night, as the first half resembled the game these two teams played in 2012, a wild shootout loaded with big plays and back-and-forth action. The second half was an exhibition in physical dominance by the Sooners as Oklahoma ratcheted up the defensive pressure and simply handed the ball to Perine on more than half of the Sooners' second half offensive snaps.
West Virginia has made drastic improvements from a season ago and the Mountaineers came out firing on both sides of the ball, forcing OU quarterback Trevor Knight into poor throws and picking apart the Oklahoma defense. Multiple times in the first half, it looked like West Virginia was going to take control of the game, but the new identity of the Sooners wouldn't allow that to happen.
Ever since the Sooners' loss to Baylor last season, Oklahoma has come up with a response for every challenge an opponent has thrown at it and Saturday night was no exception. As the Mountaineers went up 10-3 on a 54-yard field goal from Josh Lambert, and with the OU offense struggling mightily, things looked bleak for the Sooners. But OU promptly drove 75 yards in five plays, scoring on a double reverse pass from Durron Neal to Knight to tie the score at 10 and redirect the flow of the game.
The teams traded touchdowns, but Alex Ross' 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown knotted the score at 24 at the break. With momentum on their side, the Sooners got the ball to start the second half and started feeding Perine. He ran through two West Virginia defenders on the way to the end zone on a nine-yard score, giving the Sooners a 31-24 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish.
Perine scored all three of Oklahoma's touchdowns in the second half, running for 131 yards on 20 carries, more than half of the Sooners' offensive production in the last 30 minutes. It wasn't all on Perine, though. By the fourth quarter, Oklahoma's massive offensive line was opening up holes left and right for Perine and Ross to run through.
The burly freshman put the game away himself, carrying the ball on all seven plays of a 65-yard drive, the final 19 coming on a smooth run to the end zone to put OU up, 45-27 and send the rowdy WVU fans to the exits.
While Perine pounded away for the Sooners on offense, the Oklahoma defense shut down the high-powered WVU offense, allowing just 147 yards before a meaningless touchdown drive with two minutes remaining in the game. Oklahoma forced two turnovers in the second half, none bigger than Quentin Hayes' interception which came two plays after Knight was picked off at the OU 47-yard line and the Sooners clinging to a four-point lead.
Oklahoma made several halftime adjustments that helped limit the WVU attack, moves that helped the Sooners finally get consistent pressure on Mountaineers' quarterback Clint Trickett, who picked the Sooners apart in the first half.
As has become the norm for this Oklahoma team, the Sooners took the opponent's best shot Saturday night and responded with a big win. The response wasn't necessarily surprising, but the fact Perine led the charge was. The Sooners already had a crowded backfield, but those carries just got much more difficult to distribute.