But oh, what a joy it was to bask in the moment of that warm, starlit south Florida night when Dana Holgorsen said the future of West Virginia couldn’t be any brighter. The blinders of the 70-33 pasting of Clemson, the win over Texas that struck deep in the heart of Mountaineers everywhere.
Sure, it seemed to dim a bit during last season’s five-game losing streak, and got exposed like the wet dream it was by a Syracuse team that beat WVU for a third consecutive time, the latter in a Pinstripe Bowl appearance that was as pathetic as it was apathetic. But like the backside of a hurricane, this storm’s latest blast packed the most punch, Maryland completely dominating West Virginia in a loss that, shockingly, wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
The Mountaineers, frankly, don’t deserve much more than an ‘F’ for this performance. But there’s a lot of Ds that come to mind. Discouraged. Downtrodden. Depressed. Truth told, disgusted best surmises the feelings of the fan base at this juncture. But there’s one thing this 37-0 beating is not: deceptive. Maryland outplayed West Virginia in all three phases from the start, amassing an unheard-of 30-0 lead at the break that had fans flashing back to the early Ralph Friedgen days, when UM whitewashed West Virginia four consecutive times, twice in one season.
And please, let’s not pull a Fridge and note that WVU played evenly with Maryland for the second half. First, they didn’t. And second, the Terps were more than happy to use clock and trade punts for the latter 30 minutes. One exchange even went like this: Maryland fumble. West Virginia recovery. First play: Charles Sims fumble. Terps regain possession. It was almost surreal, the screw-ups.
Perhaps they should change the signs from “70 – it’s not just our speed limit” to “65 – it really is our total yardage.” At least in a first half in which West Virginia fumbled a punt return (again!) to give the opponent a touchdown (again!), in which it had three turnovers, including an interception for a touchdown, and failed to piece together any semblance of an offensive drive. Consider: If Ford Childress simply laid down on the field, his body and arm length would almost be greater than his per-pass average. Same with West Virginia’s running average. Any time the Mountaineers ran the ball, for all the effort extended, it would have been better for WVU’s ball carriers to do nothing more than fall forward at the line. That would have generated a better yards-per-carry average than the 2.4 the Mountaineers managed.
It looked at one point as though West Virginia was actually playing adequately, and was behind 14-0 merely because of beating itself. But like a glutton for punishment, the self flagellation continued to the point where the deficit ballooned, first to 17, then 20. And just when one thought, with 95 seconds left before the half, that 23-0 is doable, or at least seems like a surmountable obstacle…Maryland regained possession and scored again for a 30-0 lead at the break. Inexcuseable. And, as it turned out, insurmountable. Of course, that could have been said after Maryland put up its first score.
The question remains, does it get better or worse as we ride this storm out? Because here’s the absolute truth: We’re only in the midst of it right now. West Virginia is staring down the barrel of a 2-4 start. With zero wins against teams of any significance. The Mountaineers get into the Big 12 slate now, with Oklahoma State and a road game at Baylor looming. There’s nobody – nobody – who could rationalize that WVU should win either of those games. There’s just nothing upon which to base such an opinion when the total team aspect is examined. Defense, perhaps. But special teams has been a disaster in the return game. The offense, on its best day a bit lean, did indeed look anemic against the Terps.
And now, facing two of the top Big 12 teams, even in a mediocre conference year, that 2-4 record is looking less like a possibility, and more like probability. Maybe things will settle out. Maybe this group will awaken from whatever haze-like state they are in. Maybe it is, indeed, darkest before the dawn. But right now there’s no sure signs indicating any of that brightness, either now or in the near future.