No more do pictures of the weekly offensive and defensive standouts line the walls. The team boards featuring percentage of positive and negative plays, the third down conversion percentages, the best players in terms of fewest busted plays, best tackling percentage and fewest mistakes are no more. The eight team helmets representing the foe of the week? Gone. All that’s left are blank frames and empty white boxes lined in rows out from a column with just four helmets: TCU, Texas, Kansas and Iowa State.
With all the cosmetic changes, WVU has even gotten around to patching an annoying hole in the team meeting room that has been an eyesore for months. No word on exactly why it took so long to remedy. Now if the Mountaineers can just patch up their on-field play as well – because it’s a four-game season, and West Virginia knows it.
The Mountaineers, 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big 12, must win three games to become bowl eligible and cease snapping a school-record 11-year streak of bowls dating to 2002. It must win at least one road game, something it has yet to do in four tries, getting blown out against Maryland in Baltimore and in true away contests at Baylor and, to be honest, Kansas State in terms of the final 35-12 score. And it starts against TCU, which features among the best defenses in the Big 12 – but also an identical 3-5 overall mark, 1-4 in the league, making this week’s contest in Fort Worth what essentially amounts to a postseason elimination game.
“We are,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said, “starting over. I told our guys, ‘Nothing that we have done so far matters.’”
Which, for the mental approach desired, should be considered as true. It’s all, as has been said at the Puskar Center before, in the past. But certainly it has resonation; otherwise, West Virginia wouldn’t be in the situation of trying to sell its players on starting over. There has been past talk of trust, of each player doing his 1/11th, of the coaching staff asking players their take on what has went wrong. There has been talk of being close to big plays and bigger stops, though West Virginia has been close for quite a while without finding that spark.
The issues are obvious. Lack of execution, lack of chemistry between key players like the quarterback and receivers. The shuffle behind center has certainly played a part, as has the inability to slow opposing passing games and both stay on and get off the field on third down. There has been, at times, a glaring lack of fundamentals in all three phases, coupled with the fundamental lack of solid in-game strategy and decisions by the coaching staff. Head coach Dana Holgorsen admitted the staff is still learning from one another and how all contribute to the game plan. If it’s not quite quitting time, this season is at least wearing a heavy 5’o’clock shadow. If the work is to be extended into the postseason, it must start now.
“Because that number is sneaking up on us it’ll probably be used as motivation,” Holgorsen said of trying to get to six wins to become bowl eligible. “I feel like we have a lot to play for. I think the players feel like they have a lot to play for. What we do matters, and we have an obligation to get out there, practice hard and put our best foot forward on Saturday. I think our guys have done that. We haven’t finished well the past two weeks, but they’ve been competitive. The game last week was a lot more competitive than what the final score indicated. It’s not a moral victory to say we were in the game in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, that’s not my point. We are battling, but it’s not a winning effort.”
Which is must become. Finishing 3-1 to get to 6-6 would at least give come credence to the idea that the Mountaineers’ schedule was a bit frontloaded with talented teams, and that, had it been spaced a bit differently, perhaps the valleys would not have been so low. Whatever the case, much of any wiggle room is gone. Lose to TCU this week, and a likely 6-2 Texas team that leads the Big 12 comes in just itching to end the Mountaineers’ season after last year’s WVU win in Austin.
"Whoever wins this game is going to go to a bowl game," nose tackle Shaq Rowell said. "Whoever loses is likely not going to go to a bowl game."
“I like that,” quarterback Clint Trickett said of WVU’s refresher of an attitude. “We have to win these four games. We try to treat every week as its own season. We try to put everything we have into each game."