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West Virginia jc-s

Leading up to Saturday’s game at TCU, WVU senior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said, “I’m not finishing the season 2-10, 3-9. That’s not happening.”

With a bye week dead in the middle of its 12-game schedule, West Virginia has found itself at the fulcrum of the season since a 45-20 loss at Baylor on Oct. 9.

In a way, its fitting, as the Mountaineers’ bowl hopes and aspirations for a successful year are teetering on the brink.

The loss to the Bears marked the third straight for WVU (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big 12 Conference) and the third straight to start league play. For all intents and purposes, it may be now or never when the Mountaineers return to the field Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, to take on TCU. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will air on ESPNU.

Another loss would obviously make an already uphill climb to reach the usual minimum of six wins to reach a postseason game even more daunting, especially with games against the likes of Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas remaining.

The good news for the Mountaineers? The players, now by all accounts rested up both mentally and physically, are fully aware of the ramifications. And, at least in interviews, they’re showing a sense of determination to match the moment.

“There’s zero margin for error,” senior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m not going out like that. Excuse my language, but that’s piss-poor. I’m not going out like that, not in my senior year. So, whatever has to happen has to happen. I don’t care which way we go, I’m not finishing the season 2-10, 3-9. That’s not happening.”

To avoid such an ending, WVU will have to gain traction and momentum, starting this week against a TCU team that has had its share of ups and downs as well. The Horned Frogs, historically known for defensive prowess after leading the country in total defense five times since 2000 and leading the Big 12 in the same category five times since 2012, have struggled to stop opponents but have made up for it with a powerful offense.

The Horned Frogs (3-3, 1-2) have yielded 445.2 yards per game, ninth in the conference above only Kansas, but have piled up 460 yards of offense per contest, third in the Big 12. While TCU’s rushing attack behind running backs Zach Evans (586 yards, five touchdowns) and Kendre Miller 357 yards, six touchdowns) is strong, the Horned Frogs are nearly as balanced as a team can be, passing for 232.5 yards and running for 227.5 yards per contest.

Now in his third year as a starter, junior quarterback Max Duggan is among the most experienced signal-callers in the league and is arguably having his best season, having thrown for 1,349 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s also run for 231 yards and a pair of scores.

“I think it starts with Duggan,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “He’s a winner. He competes. I heard on the game the other night that he’s playing with a broken bone in his foot, [but] you wouldn’t know it. He’s throwing the ball better than he has in his career.”

Indeed, the Horned Frogs are beaten up, playing their fifth game in a stretch of 10 straight. Duggan will play through his injury and Evans is also listed as probable after missing last week’s 52-31 loss at Oklahoma.

Defensively, it has been a revolving door for the Horned Frogs, and Brown attributes many of TCU’s defensive woes to injuries. Star cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is questionable this week with fellow secondary members Bud Clark and Deshawn McCuin being ruled out.

Regardless of who is playing on the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers have plenty to prove. From getting running back Leddie Brown going to continuing to tinker with its two-quarterback rotation (Jarret Doege and Garrett Greene), WVU’s search for answers on offense continues.

Neal Brown said the bye week gave the West Virginia staff a chance to re-evaluate many things and, hopefully, that evaluation and the resulting adjustments will pay dividends in all phases.

“I think you’re looking for solutions as much as anything,” he said. “You go back and do a bunch of self-scouting because you have some time. And that’s what you do, you go back and evaluate what you have done well. I think we have a pretty good understanding of what we’re capable of doing and then where we’ve made mistakes.

“I think that’s probably the most important thing is whether it’s schematically, personnel-wise, whatever, you say, ‘OK, we made these mistakes, how do we correct them or how do we avoid them?’”

While Brown also said not to expect wholesale changes, he did say there will be changes in the game plan.

“If it’s a schematic issue, maybe you can’t be in this coverage, I think you have to eliminate it,” Brown said. “That’s kind of what we tried to do. We’ve tried to cut back on things. What we are asking our guys, even though it was good for us maybe a year ago or in the past, what are some of the things we’re doing that maybe don’t fit what our personnel is?”

All of that is well and good, but to Chandler-Semedo, one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, the difference between a more successful half of the season and the one the Mountaineers just turned in is a lot simpler.

“It’s a sense of pride, honestly,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, outside of my freshman year, we’ve had a little success, but I haven’t had much success wearing a Mountaineer uniform and I’m not used to that. I always won in high school and little league, so to go out and finish worse than where we’ve been at, that doesn’t sit right with me. Especially when I’m not satisfied with where we’ve been.”

Ryan Pritt covers WVU sports. He can be reached at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.