Short week could be a plus for WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For much of the past two months, games couldn't be spaced far enough apart for West Virginia's football team. After all, each week brought something new and troublesome to work on.
This week is different. The Mountaineers have one less day to prepare for Friday afternoon's game at Iowa State and that's just fine with all concerned.
Sure, there are still plenty of things to work on, but for one of the few times of late there are more encouraging signs than ominous ones.
"We'll obviously be one day shorter, which I think is good because we need to get back out there and play again,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. "The best way to get back on track is to get out there and have the opportunity to play.''
From a strictly numeric sense, little about West Virginia's football team changed with Saturday's 50-49 loss at home to Oklahoma. The Mountaineers are still in the throes of a losing streak that has now reached five and has neatly come to match the win streak that began the season.
They still have huge defensive issues and, once again, specials-teams errors didn't help. A missed extra point ultimately prevented the game from going to overtime and a kickoff return to near midfield set up Oklahoma's winning score.
But for the first time since that 5-0 start, the offense seems once again dynamic enough to overcome almost every obstacle presented it by the defense and special teams, and those units have progressed just enough to make things interesting.
So why not want to get back out there as soon as possible? The chance comes when West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) faces Iowa State (6-5, 3-5) in a 3:30 p.m. game Friday (ABC) at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.
"All losses are pretty tough, but I don't know what else we could have done. I felt like we gave it everything that we had,'' Holgorsen said of the loss to OU. "The sideline energy was great and our kids played hard. The effort was there, the energy was there and the excitement was there. The sidelines were energetic, and our guys put a whole lot into it, but we couldn't get it done. They made one more play then we did.
"It was a tough one, but all losses are fairly tough. That's why I'm excited about the short week. There's not time to sit and ponder.''
Of course, if there's ever a good week to have less time to prepare than normal, this would be it. School is on break all week, so finding time for extra work and preparation isn't an issue. Monday is usually an off day for the players to concentrate on academics, but the team lifted weights during the day and went through a regular Tuesday practice Monday.
There also seems to be more of a positive attitude this week as opposed to recent ones. Much of that is certainly due to the sudden revitalization of the offense. With Tavon Austin making a surprise appearance at tailback and the Mountaineers rolling up a staggering 778 yards against the Sooners, there seems hope that with all the nationally ranked teams on the schedule in the rear-view mirror, the chances of getting the one more win needed for bowl eligibility are far better.
After Iowa State, West Virginia closes the regular season at home against 1-10 Kansas on Dec. 1. A win in either game will send the Mountaineers to a bowl game for the 11th straight year.
Because of all of that - the performance of the offense, the competitive nature of the game with Oklahoma, the chance to become bowl eligible - Holgorsen said he doesn't feel like motivation is an issue.
"I don't see that at this point,'' Holgorsen said. "Yes, there's a worry to that, but we're still playing for a lot. We have 22 [seniors] that have 12 days left in their college careers unless we win one of the two and extend it to a bowl game.''
Of course, whatever bowl West Virginia would end up going to would be nothing like what was envisioned two months ago when the Mountaineers were in the national championship and BCS bowl conversations. But for a college football program, there's really no such thing as a bad bowl. At this stage, Holgorsen just wants to be able to practice for another few weeks.
"Bowl games are rewards. You get to a level where a bowl game is much more than a reward, but we're not at that stage right now. We're at the stage where we're playing for the betterment of the program,'' Holgorsen said. "If we win a couple of games and get to a good bowl game, we get to practice for another month. That will help us out for the program.''
He wasn't even the most impressive offensive player on the field, of course, given Tavon Austin's 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards. But the unwritten rule is that the players of the week must come from winning teams.
Austin wasn't even WVU's offensive champion because for the fifth straight week none were chosen.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.