There were written ideals of increased shares of Big 12 revenue, of team-building, of a shored up defensive staff and finer skill position play and the return of arguably the most promising quarterback from a pectoral injury. There were remarks about how the supposed final 5-7 record was pretty close to 7-5. There were the reminders that this staff has recruiters in place that understand the landscapes of Baltimore, Virginia, western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. About how head coach Dana Holgorsen was learning on the job and developing, despite many complaints otherwise, into a solid head coach capable of leading this program.
And that’s all still true. The future, when things such as class and scholarship numbers, young talent, increased monies, better facilities and overall recruiting are factored. It all remains a legit thought. But my, how Iowa State ripped through the soul, if not the heart, of that approach. The Cyclones, just 2-9 entering, rallied from 24 points down to stun WVU in three overtimes. We’d all seen this movie; we knew how it ended as soon as regulation did. Just like Texas Tech. Just like Kansas State. Just like Texas. The proverbial wind’s out of the sails now, the lone thing left the quiet sound after the fury of a Cyclone.
It’s discouraging, isn’t it? In the most exasperating, game-of-delay taking, pass-dribbling, fumble-dropping, poor-snapping, vomit-inducing offensive flop party that was. And the worst – you knew it was coming. Because here’s the point that must be addressed before all the good can start to shine through: This West Virginia program lacks the mental and physical fortitude to finish even the worst of Big 12 foes at this point. It has proven that in dramatically disasterous fashion in the last weeks of the season. A major part of that is there’s not one thing WVU can rely upon when it comes time to finish games.
Get off the field against Texas, limit the Longhorns to just 16 of a possible 28 points despite four red zone turnovers on offense – and then fold like a house of cards over the final quarter-plus. West Virginia had five plays to essentially seal the game, or move very close to such. And it didn’t, inside three minutes remaining, convert a second and one. Or a third and one. Or get a stop on fourth and seven with the lead from around midfield when the defensive coaches told the team exactly what was coming. The final instruction from the sideline from coordinator Keith Patterson? “Don’t back off the sticks.” The Mountaineers back off the sticks. First down, Texas. And even with four shots inside the five-yard line to tie in overtime, ballgame Texas. Because West Virginia’s offense can’t rely on itself for anything.
Holgorsen couldn’t run it straight ahead in the OT session against UT because the line got dominated. He tried to pass, but quarterback Paul Millard again forced passes. He’s hamstrung to the fullest degree seen recently by as much a lack of talent and execution as anything. Receivers mystifyingly drop passes or run out of bounds on patterns. But it’s not all on the players. Quarterback Clint Trickett said that West Virginia took the delay of game in overtime tonight because nobody knew the play clock was set to 25 seconds instead of 40. Inexcusable. Just like the fourth and 14 throw to the end zone against Texas Tech. West Virginia has lacked emotion at times, like against Maryland and Kansas. It’s lacked execution at times, like against Texas and Iowa State. It’s lacked a killer instinct, like all the time against any foe this season. It’s lacked toughness, some resiliency and some intelligence, both in play calls and how players approach the game. And the primary reason for quite a bit of it is lack of continuity.
There’s little question part of that is coaching. But a big part of it is just having young players sans major experience or any kind of reliability and consistency between year one and two. Holgorsen’s entire staff from his first season to his third changed over or flopped positions within the staff. The offensive line is on its third coach in four years. The QBs haven’t been mentored by the same person – though that doesn’t come close to encapsulating the problems with that position – ones that almost have to be solved before WVU can expect to have any sort of flow. Maybe the return and promise of Ford Childress is what ails. And it remains that Trickett and the receivers should anticipate a big improvement between year one and two in the offense. But there’s much lacking in terms of decision making and flow within a game.
That’s a product of youth plus inconsistency times lack of continuity. Director of Athletics Oliver Luck has hinted at some changes to the strength and conditioning program, and that, too, could aid in building some toughness and ability up front, where West Virginia has lacked since at least 2009. But until the Mountaineers have many of the same coaches in the same spot – as it will this offseason – until WVU can gain better depth, as it is building, until it can find the focus needed to play what resembles a full 60 minutes and beyond as needed, it will continue to give leads and games away.
The defense, for its part, gets a major pass due largely to injuries. It’s beat up, and despite the absolute rash of injuries, from a down and distance perspective, has shown some improvement from last year. The majority of better players are all underclassmen. Special teams has done some really solid work this season in the punt game on field goals and on coverage. The return game has been worse than poor. The Mountaineers, though, can live with that as a whole. But it cannot overcome all the above issues and lack of consistency. No team or school or program can. When one thing is solved, another busts. Again – and it bears repetition – that’s youth and lack of continuity and an aching need for seasoned talent and depth. It’s being addressed, though one is hard-pressed to see the results on the field of now.
This loss, coming when and as it did, did nothing for building any mojo moving forward. The 2013 season’s shattered glass on an ash heap. But there’s still some foundation, some full scholarship numbers, some depth and young talent and continuity and consistency available. Those, and simple hard work and time, are the raw materials. Let’s get to building.