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Anatomy of an upset: How West Virginia beat Oklahoma State

How does an overmatched team at home beat a superior opponent? Let's find out.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

In the race for the Big 12 title, the most surprising result of the season may not be the destruction of the Oklahoma Sooners at the hands of the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl, but rather the West Virginia Mountaineers knocking off the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the only loss of the season for Mike Gundy's squad.

Any surprising upset requires a number of factors to come together to help produce a victory. Here's how the Mountaineers were able to take down the Pokes.


Part of the equation for any loss for any team in any circumstance, turning the ball over on the road in a hostile environment is a recipe for disaster. Oklahoma State had three on the day, not including a turnover on downs on the team's final possession as they tried to mount a desperate comeback down by two scores.

Points off turnovers

Sure, turnovers by themselves by be turning points in a game because of field position, a promising drive coming to an end, or simply taking a crowd out of the game or sending it into a frenzy.

But the crucial next step for teams looking to spring an upset is to turn those turnovers into points.

West Virginia did that, returning the first interception thrown by Oklahoma State quarterback JW Walsh 58 yards for a touchdown. It was a spectacular individual play from Mountaineer cornerback Ishmael Banks, who didn't merely jump an outside route and race down the sideline for an easy score, but rather had to cut inside, then outside, follow his blockers, then explode into the corner of the end zone past an opponent.

After Cowboys running back Jeremy Smith fumbled in Oklahoma State territory, West Virginia was able to convert that turnover into points with a 45-yard field goal, one of three field goals on the day for the Mountaineers.

The other interception also occurred in Oklahoma State territory, as Walsh sailed a pass over the head of his intended receiver while on the run, a throw that ended up in the waiting arms of safety Darwin Cook, the best playmaker in the Mountaineer secondary.

The subsequent seven-play drive only produced 19 yards, but it was enough to give kicker Josh Lambert a 34-yard field goal attempt.

In all, the Mountaineers scored 13 points off of the three Cowboys turnovers.

Special teams mistakes

Oklahoma State didn't give up any long punt returns and didn't give up any long kickoff returns, either. In fact, West Virginia failed to make any type of mark at all in those two phases of the game.

But the kicking for Oklahoma State was exceptionally shaking. No longer blessed by the presence of former All-American Quinn Sharp, who made 28-of-34 field goals in 2012, replacement Ben Grogan, a freshman, missed both of his attempts, one coming from only 23 yards away that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter.

For West Virginia, the kicking game wasn't exactly perfect, as Lambert missed attempts from 50 yards and 34 yards, both in a third quarter in which the Mountaineers failed to score. Still, his three makes were enough to make up the difference in the game when the final horn sounded. Two of them came in the critical fourth quarter.

Third-down failures

Offenses trying to make up for turnovers and other mistakes need to stay on the field. Oklahoma State was not able to do that, converting only 6-of-20 third downs. Overall, the Pokes haven't been great on the year in that regard, converting less than 39%, but in a relatively close game, that nearly 10% difference in conversions made a difference.


Only six penalties that resulted in less than 40 free yards for Oklahoma State were significantly out-weighed by 10 penalties on the Cowboys that led to 96 extra yards for the Mountaineers offense.

A holding penalty killed the first drive for Oklahoma State on a 2nd and 1 play, a roughing the passer penalty aided the first West Virginia touchdown drive, a delay of game turned a 3rd and 6 into 3rd and 11, and an illegal block on first down essentially ended a drive in the fourth quarter.

Not all of the penalties on Oklahoma State, a handful of which were pass interference flags, ended up resulting in West Virginia points or stopped established drives, but the hidden yardage in the game did help flip field position and the aforementioned penalties did have a least some impact on sustaining drives.


All upsets bear at least some of the hallmarks of this particular game and often include other components like big plays from the winning team's offense -- although the Mountaineers had three gains of 38 or more yards in the passing game, none of those plays went for long touchdowns -- and avoiding turnovers, which West Virginia did not do in committing two, start checking off multiple boxes in the above checklist, and the favored team reduces its chances of winning quite quickly.

So the game plan for Texas will be simple -- run the ball early and often, get an early lead, avoid turnovers and big plays from the West Virginia offense, then simply hold on late.