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September 11, 1982
Coming off the worst season in Barry Switzer's eight years as Oklahoma's head coach, he toyed with the idea of scrapping his highly-successful wishbone offense and rebuild it with an I-formation. The reason was successfully landing a star freshman in an unprecedented recruitment circus, running back Marcus Dupree, that novelist Willie Morris chronicled in a book, The Courting of Marcus Dupree. He had been the top high school prospect in the country, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he had combined strength, power and speed to gain 5,284 yards while playing at Philadelphia (MS) High School from 1978-81, and scored a national record 87 touchdowns.
Directing the offense was senior quarterback Kelly Phelps, who would be at the helm again after losing the job a year earlier. Among those also scheduled to carry the ball for the Sooners were senior fullbacks Stanley Wilson and Weldon Ledbetter. And they would work behind a huge offensive line anchored by fifth-year senior 300-pound guard Steve Williams, who placed second as a heavyweight in the NCAA wrestling championships and had an unusual summer job as "Dr. Death" wrestling professionally, taking advantage of collegiate rules say you can be a professional athlete so long as you do not participate in that sport as a collegian.
In their opener the Sooners, who were 9-0 in openers under Switzer, hosted West Virginia, a team they had blown out 52-10 four years earlier. But it was also a school that had suffered four straight losing seasons, and a 17-27 record under Frank Cignetti, before a 6-6 mark in '80 under rookie head coach Don Nehlen was followed by a 9-3 season in '81, including a Peach Bowl win over Florida. They were a team on the rise, led by wide receiver Willie Drewrey and linebacker Daryl Talley, but the key would be junior quarterback Jeff Hostetler, a transfer in from Penn State after losing his starting job a few years earlier, who would be making his debut with the Mountaineers.
West Virginia came out cautiously, and even though they won the coin toss, Nehlen elected to kick with a 15 mile-per-hour wind. On Oklahoma's second play of the game, running back Steve Sewell broke a 46-yard run. On the seventh play of the drive, Ledbetter went up the middle from four yards out, and Michael Keeling's extra point put the home team ahead, 7-0.
On its next possession, the Sooners moved 61 yards in 13 plays. Phelps put the finishing touches on the drive by scoring from six yards out, and Keeling's kick put Oklahoma up 14-0. The Mountaineers failed to get a first down on their next possession, the Sooners threatened to blow the game open by marching 54 yards, but a 34-yard field goal attempt misfired.
But in an amazing turnaround, Oklahoma's offense disappeared, and they punted. West Virginia's offense finally appeared. Hostetler's 31-yard pass to Darrell Miller moved the ball to the Oklahoma 32, where they eventually settled for kicker Paul Woodside's 26-yard field goal.
The Mountaineers' defense held Oklahoma again, and when the offense got the ball back, they struck quickly. Hostetler hit Rich Hollins on a 52-yard bomb to move the ball to the Sooner ten. He then connected with tight end Mark Raugh for a ten-yard score, cutting the lead to 14-10 with about four minutes until intermission.
The West Virginia defense took charge and again stopped the Sooners, their third straight possession without a first down and limited to just 15 yards. As the first half was winding down, Hostetler tossed a 48-yard pass to Drewrey that moved the ball to the Oklahoma 15. A touchdown pass to Miller was called back, and they settled for Woodside's 38-yard field goal, cutting the Oklahoma lead to 14-13.
The visiting Mountaineers were not satisfied, and Nehlen then gambled and called for an onside kick. Woodside dribbled one that went through Oklahoma's front line unit, and WVU's Brad Minetree recovered at the Sooner 33. Seconds later, Miller streaked down the far sideline and Hostetler floated a pass over his shoulder, which Miller caught just before falling out of bounds in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The crowd was shocked as the visiting Mountaineers joyously headed into the locker room up 20-14.
Oklahoma scored on its first possession of the second half when on a fourth down-and-three from the WVU 23 when Phelps faked a handoff up the middle and then rolled to his left, going all the way into the end zone untouched. Keeling's extra point gave the Sooners a 21-20 lead.
But fired-up West Virginia came right back, buoyed by a 45-yard kickoff return from Drewrey that gave them the ball at their 47. The offense moved across midfield and to the Oklahoma 30, where they faced a second down-and-ten. Hostetler hit tailback Curlin Beck over the middle to retake the led, 27-21.
The Mountaineer defense continued to dominate the Sooners, but they had no control over the special teams. Punter Greg Robertson, standing at his own 15, allowed the snap from center to slip through his hands and hit off his belly, and though he kept control, the extra second enabled Oklahoma safety Darrell Songy to break through and block the punt. Keith Stanberry recovered the ball at the two and ran it into the end zone. However, West Virginia defensive end Chuck Harris tipped the extra point, denying the hosts the lead at the 3:32 mark, and the game headed the final turn tied at 27-27.
Unfortunately, from then on, it was all West Virginia despite being held to just three yards on it's next to possessions.
On the Mountaineers' second possession of the fourth quarter, Hostetler went to work. He threw to Mickey Walczak for gains of five and nine yards, and then fired to Hollins for a gain for 42, moving the ball to the Sooner nine. From there, after an incompletion, Hostetler found Wayne Brown for a touchdown, and Woodside put the visitor's ahead, 34-27.
The Sooners went to the air in an attempt to catch up, but for a predominantly running team, it was a secondary option. Phelps passed for a first down, but then his inexperience caught up with him as he threw three straight incompletions, with the last one being broken up by junior free safety Tim Agee on a fourth-and-eight attempt.
With about two minutes remaining, and with the Mountaineers in possession and Oklahoma's chances slim, fullback Cam Zopp rushed for two yards. The next play was a draw to Beck, and after Zopp buried linebacker Jackie Shipp with a beautiful block to open an enormous hole, Beck raced untouched for a 43-yard touchdown, ending all suspense with the final score in a shocking 41-27 upset.
Oklahoma finished the game with 420 yards in total offense, 319 via the ground game which was led by Ledbetter's 83 and Wilson's 78. Meanwhile, their defense could not solve the pinpoint passing of Hostetler, who completed 17 of 37 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns.
It was the first loss in a home opener by the Sooners since 1965, the first time they had begun a season 0-1 since '68, and it was also the most points ever scored against the Sooners in the state of Oklahoma (Ed. note: It was tied for the third most up until that game and the most since Nebraska in 1969). It was an impressive victory that would almost certainly propel West Virginia into the Top 20.
Nehlen was trying to restrain himself after the game, but having a tough time doing it. "I would think for a guy who has never taken a snap at West Virginia it was a brilliant performance," he said. "It was fantastic and especially so because they hit him every single time he threw."
Switzer was among those amazed, but not for the same reasons as the paying customers or opposing coach. "We did one thing I never thought would happen. I never would have believed that we could play a whole game without fumbling and lose."
Source: Jeff Linkowski