WVU starts off with bang, but disappears late in game

We could almost take the column written in this space last week and just change a few names and dates. Late in the third quarter West Virginia is leading in their Big 12 Conference game. And then the roof falls in.

It is puzzling how this WVU team has good enough athletes to play opponents well for a majority of the game and then completely disappears when the game is on the line. During the first two-thirds of the games played these last two weeks (the first half and most of the third quarter), the Mountaineers have outscored their opponents, 39-23. In the last third, opponents have dominated West Virginia by an aggregate total of 49-0.

During the second and third quarters the Mountaineers had an opportunity to build a cushion, but in six possessions in Kansas State territory (three inside the 10) came away with only 12 points. The Wildcats would not pass up similar opportunities. After being held to 174 yards in its first nine possessions, Kansas State amassed 274 yards and 28 points in its last four times with the ball. The result was a 35-12 loss in another game the Mountaineers actually had an opportunity to win.

I was among those lauding the improvement of the WVU defense after holding Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to 16 and 21 points, respectively. I was wrong. It was a mirage. The Mountaineer defense now has been torched by good pass receivers each of the last three weeks. This time it was the Wildcats’ Tyler Lockett with 8 receptions for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns. A Kansas State passing attack which had been mediocre this season went 18 for 21 with an average of 13.9 yards per pass attempt, a woeful stat from a defensive point of view.

The season is now two thirds complete with a 3-5 record. So upon what positive factors might fans of a losing team focus? Is their team underachieving with close losses at the end of games? Well, not exactly. The five losses have been by an average of 22 points, and none were in doubt as the fourth quarter has wound down. Is their team showing improvement? That’s not happening either.

With less than average play at quarterback, an inability to run the ball, and a defense which folds at the end of games, in all candor there just isn’t much reason for optimism.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen again expressed frustration of his team not being able to finish, saying “that’s not what good teams do.” He’s right. In describing this West Virginia team one can fill in the blank with whatever adjective he chooses, but good isn’t one of them.

This Saturday: Just how much a step up playing in the Big 12 conference was is evidenced by the performance of the league’s two newest members.

In the five years before joining their new league West Virginia was 25-10 in Big East games with two BCS Bowl berths. In their last four years in the Mountain West TCU was dominant, going 30-1 in conference play and likewise playing in two BCS bowl games. And since their arrival? The Mountaineers are 5-8 in conference games while TCU stands at 5-9.

But at least they have a shot at each other in Fort Worth this Saturday. TCU was projected in the upper tier of the Big 12 this season but has also underachieved, losing four conference games including a disappointing 30-7 trouncing at the hands of Texas at home last week. But when you’re struggling, WVU can be a welcome sight. TCU 23, West Virginia 17