MORGANTOWN — The Mountaineers have two problems.
No. 1, starting.
No. 2, finishing.
That’s a tough combination. It is also what has led West Virginia University into such inconsistent performances and up-and-down play in nearly every game.
It happened again here Saturday.
Although the Mountaineers opened up a 24-10 halftime lead on the way to an eventual 37-10 victory over 16th-ranked Kansas State before 10,441 fans at sunny Milan Puskar Stadium, there was still plenty of inconsistency.
Take the first quarter, for example.
Kansas State quarterback Will Howard’s pass to Deuce Vaughn was high and bounced off his reaching, upraised hand right into WVU cornerback Nicktroy Fortune’s waiting grasp.
Perhaps WVU could take an early lead.
Uh, not likely.
Instead, WVU quarterback Jarret Doege was sacked for a 4-yard loss, which led to kicker Evan Staley missing a 51-yard field goal attempt.
So the Mountaineers failed to take advantage of the turnover. Moments later, K-State took a 3-0 lead on a 21-yard field goal. But it appeared WVU would answer when the Mountaineers drove into the red zone. Until, that is, running back Leddie Brown was dropped for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-goal situation. That led to a 19-yard field goal for WVU and a 3-3 tie.
That wasn’t the end of the first quarter, either. WVU had another opportunity when safety Sean Mahone intercepted a pass. Yet again, the unopportunistic Mountaineers failed to take advantage of the turnover.
So the first quarter ended with the score tied 3-3.
Remember how I mentioned WVU had a problem with starting? Case in point. The Mountaineers ended up taking a 24-10 halftime lead, thanks to a productive second quarter.
That has been an inexplicable trend.
Take away the 56-10 season-opening win over FCS sacrificial lamb Eastern Kentucky and then do the math.
WVU fell behind Oklahoma State 17-0 after a scoreless first quarter in an eventual 27-13 loss. Next, the Mountaineers took a 7-0 lead against Baylor on their first possession but then committed three consecutive turnovers. That led to a 7-7 halftime score.
And don’t forget winless Kansas. WVU trailed the beleaguered Jayhawks 10-0 in the first quarter. More recently, the Mountaineers never led and played catch-up the whole game in a 34-27 loss at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders led 7-0, 13-7 and then 20-13 at halftime.
It’s like the Mountaineers need a dose of starting fluid in their water bottles.
But guess what?
WVU also has a problem with finishing. Remember how the Mountaineers handed Texas Tech the game-winning touchdown a week ago while going 0 for 5 on their final possessions?
Then there’s the Oklahoma State loss. The Mountaineers battled their way back into the game only to see Cowboys star running back Chuba Hubbard get loose for a game-clinching 23-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
So it’s obvious. WVU definitely has a problem with both starting and finishing. Again, do the math.
During first quarters in the 2020 season, WVU has been outscored by opponents 26-24 (not counting the points from the Eastern Kentucky game).
But in the second quarter, WVU has been dominant while outscoring foes 72-48 (plus 24). The same is true for the Mountaineers in the third quarter with a 48-10 margin (plus 38).
But the fourth quarter? Here we go again. WVU has been outscored 28-27 by opponents.
The trend needs to change.
Next week at Texas would be a really good time to start.