A tough season, no doubt. But one made tougher by a difficult early slate, one that was anticipated to ease enough to perhaps allow for some wins down the stretch. But with what all saw in the 35-12 loss to Kansas State, the lack of pass coverage, the turnovers, the strategic decisions, the continued quarterback shuffle, the inability to get off the field on third downs, the continued slow starts, the basic lack of piecing together any semblance of a complete game, one has to feel the players are beginning to become apathetic as well.
There’s Clint Trickett, shaking his head – regarding decision or execution – on the sidelines in response to West Virginia’s fake field goal. There’s the defense, deflated by yet another deep Kansas State throw into the end zone for a score, the offensive line leaving the field, head down, after the slow early start and the final meaningful possession, when WVU, with Paul Millard quarterbacking, misfired on a fourth and 10.
There was Trickett fumbling twice and misfiring on routine passes. He simply isn’t yet polished enough to lead this team. But Trickett has moved the offense at times. He has ran for first downs, and done some quite positive things. Late in the game, for some reason, West Virginia then inexplicably puts in an ice-cold Paul Millard. And Millard throws his first ball in the turf, then apparently blows the screen play call as head coach Dana Holgorsen blows a gasket on the sideline.
There receivers weren’t much better. There were drops, passes hitting off hands, off shoulder pads, spinning into the air. With WVU ahead 12-7, the defense gave up three consecutive third downs on what would be the deciding drive, including a third and 11 conversion and a nine-yard scoring pass that hung up long enough to be defended as the Wildcats took a 14-12 lead. The secondary, by and large, failed to cover deep. Individual players still didn’t get their head around and both the corners and safeties still can’t flip their hips enough to recover off misread routes. At this point, all of the offense, the defense, the special teams – it is what it is. Once KSU gained the lead, there wasn’t much thought the Mountaineers could actually win. It’s an apathetic nature. And that’s sad.
WVU, actually, could have held the lead a bit longer if it would have taken the easy three points just before the half. It can be deceiving to note how prior calls indeed affect later play. And it’s not that it was a bad call in and of itself. Certainly, it was far superior to the fourth and 14 decision against Texas Tech. But it would seem West Virginia is gambling far too often in what are essentially free-point situations. The Mountaineers, now 3-5 and 1-4 in the Big 12, can’t overcome the loss of points, and they aren’t good enough offensively to execute in the fourth and 14-type situations. The better ideal might be to try and get any points possible, and then attempt to protect the lead. But that’s simply not Holgorsen’s personality, and the approach has been fine in that past. With this team, and all its miscues and frustrations, it might not best serve the immediate cause.
It does seem this staff is grasping, trying to find something that might work. And that makes sense. But this season appears to be done. KSU likely was among the better 2-4 teams in the nation. But it was a 2-4, and now 3-4, team that held WVU to just four of 15 on third down, and zero for two on fourth down, while outgaining the Mountaineers by going completely against its grain and throwing for 291 yards. It is the most allowed by any KSU foe this season other than Louisiana-Lafayette. And the Cajuns, to their credit, played K-State closer than did West Virginia.
Going to TCU and winning would be such an upset that it’s difficult for one to even consider the remote possibility. That leaves a trio of Texas, Kansas and Iowa State just to get to 6-6 and the hopes of a bowl game. Can this team, as last season’s did, recover from the emotional strain of what’s likely to be a four-game losing streak before getting back home? West Virginia has now lost 11 of its last 14 games against BCS foes, including the five defeats this season by an average of more than three touchdowns per game. It’s among the darker recent periods. And while there are slivers of light here and there, it’s difficult to tell whether the worst has passed.