No shame but still a painful setback for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On Saturday, WVU's football team didn't suffer a terrible loss.
There was nothing horrendous about losing to Texas Tech, the nation's No. 16 team. The Mountaineers were fine through most of the 37-27 loss before 53,084 on an overcast fall day at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Just don't misunderstand.
The loss wasn't terrible. But it certainly was bad.
The Mountaineers were at home. Obviously not overmatched, they were winning 27-16 with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter. The crowd was into the game. It appeared West Virginia was headed for Oklahoma State II.
Instead, it was Three-and-Out I.
Down the stretch, the Red Raider offense fought. The Mountaineer offense floundered. When it was all over, WVU had lost its 10th game in the last 15. It had fallen below .500 for the first time since a 1-2 start in 2008.
Instead of turning around this season, instead of rebounding from another wipeout with a home win over a Top 25 team, the Mountaineers drooped.
And all in the WVU locker room knew it.
"It's a game we should have won," said Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen.
"We completely froze up at the end," said Shannon Dawson, Holgorsen's offensive coordinator.
"We had it in the bag," said Mountaineer linebacker Jared Barber.
Indeed, forget the cat. West Virginia let the Red Raiders out of the bag. Or, rather, it allowed the Red Raiders to fight their way out of the bag.
What's bizarre is it should have been the Mountaineers that were motivated. If memory serves, was it not Texas Tech that firebombed West Virginia's season last year around this time? Almost a year to the week, the Red Raiders laid a 49-14 job on a 5-0 West Virginia team that was basking in the national spotlight.
On Saturday, WVU seemed set for redemption, up by that 27-16 count. But then ...
"We were playing Mountaineer football," said center Pat Eger. "We were playing together ... we had them up against the ropes. But they made more plays than we did."
All understand this West Virginia team will have trouble rallying from a deficit. It simply doesn't have the offensive firepower, especially at quarterback.
It should, however, be able to hold a late lead before a rowdy Mountaineer crowd. Instead, down the stretch, the hosts curled up.
"We weren't playing with 11 people," Eger said. "When you don't complete assignments, that's what happens."
We know what can happen to a tired defense. On Saturday, though, WVU had 82 offensive snaps to Texas Tech's 81. Oddly, it seemed as if the Mountaineer offense wore down.
"Maybe some of us," said WVU receiver Kevin White. "We just didn't finish."
There were other problems for the hosts. Even knowing the reputation of tight end Jace Amaro, the Texas Tech standout caught nine passes for 136 yards and two scores.
The special teams were, again, anything but special. There were Mountaineer kickoff returns to their own 11. WVU allowed a 52-yard kickoff return. Holgorsen played into it, passing on a field goal attempt. ("It was not the correct decision," he said.) As always, we could go on and on about the Mountaineers' special-teams performance.
What was striking, however, was how the Mountaineer offense, which finished with 437 total yards, folded the proverbial tent at game's end.
"We played decently for three quarters," Dawson said. "Whenever it got tough, though, it was three-and-out. We didn't have guys that would stand up and make plays."
If WVU's offensive players weren't physically worn down, they appeared to be so mentally.
"We had pre-snap penalties," Dawson said. "We had drops."
And WVU dropped the ball. Texas Tech was away, visiting Puskar Stadium for the first time. The Red Raiders could have been looking ahead to the Oklahoma game.
Yet, at game's end, there was freshman quarterback Davis Webb connecting on a third-and-6 situation to Jordan Davis to seal the game.
Holgorsen said his team didn't have the will to win. He said defensively the team has depth problems.
"Confidence," pitched in White.
What we saw is Texas Tech ran harder. It strained harder. It was more confident.
And that, more than anything, made Saturday's Mountaineer loss a bad one.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.