By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s streak of 11 consecutive bowl appearances isn’t the only one that will be on the line over the next two games as the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) try to win out to become bowl eligible.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen also has a streak of his own. Dating back to his days as offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Holgorsen has ended his year with a bowl appearance in 13 straight seasons, covering stops with the Red Raiders, Houston, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
A 6-6 finish wasn’t the goal when the year began, but Holgorsen admitted Tuesday that reaching that point and going bowling has become the rallying cry for this year’s team. It’s a reward, he said, for the hard work of the seniors.
“That’s definitely what the expectation is,” explained the third-year coach. “We are going to do everything in our power to get there. We are going to put forth effort, try hard, coach hard and hopefully put it all together and play hard to win the next two games. It’s certainly the expectation here, and it should be.”
WVU should be favored in each of its last two games — on the road at Kansas Saturday and at home against Iowa State on Nov. 30 — but that doesn’t mean anything will come easily.
Kansas (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) hasn’t won a league game since 2010, but Holgorsen said that just serves as more motivation to end the streak on ROOT Sports Saturday at noon.
“We’ve been in a bad place this year, as well,” said Holgorsen. “They’re no different than any other team in the Big 12. If you look at the games they’ve played, they have been playing with a ton of effort.
“It sounds so silly to say, but at 4-6, if we think we have any chance of just showing up and beating anyone in college football, then you have another thing coming — especially against two teams in the Big 12 that are looking for a win.”
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Perhaps the busiest man in the Mountaineer program has been head athletic trainer Dave Kerns. The longtime member of the WVU medical staff has seen players come in and out of his training room as if there were dollar bills free for the taking lying on the training tables.
Added to the list of players lost for the season on Tuesday were junior linebacker Jared Barber, who will have ACL surgery next week, and sophomore safety K.J. Dillon, who has been in the intensive care unit this week with severe dehydration.
Barber was tied for the team lead with 71 tackles, including five tackles for loss. Dillon had 28 tackles and a team-best six pass breakups.
Sophomore linebacker Christian Brown, sophomore cornerback Nana Kyeremeh, senior linebacker Doug Rigg, senior linebacker Dozie Ezemma, junior linebacker Shaq Pettaway and junior linebacker Wes Tonkery had already been ruled out for the season, bringing the total number on defense to eight. All had played, or were expected to play, significant snaps.
“That’s just part of college football — injuries,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “We’ll just plug people in at those positions, get them up to speed as fast as possible and try to win a game.”
The veteran coach couldn’t deny that the injuries have an an impact on his team, but he wasn’t willing to use it as an excuse for his group’s recent second-half struggles..
“I think I counted 15 guys on defense who are on the injury report, and 10 of those guys are out for the season,” he said. “You can’t use that as an excuse. That’s just football. It’s a tough sport, and it’s part of the game.
“People just have to step in. I always tell the backups, ‘You’re one play away from being a starter. You have to prepare. It may be Game 11 before you get that shot to play.’ They have to get out there and execute. You can’t use that as an excuse. No one cares.”
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Holgorsen weighed in on former WVU president Jim Clements’ departure for Clemson, which was announced on Monday, saying it was a big loss for WVU.
“I was watching film yesterday when I got the news,” he said. “It’s disappointing news to hear for WVU. Jim’s a great ally, a great friend. He’s done a tremendous job for WVU. We thank him for all of his support and hard work, and we wish him the best at Clemson.”
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.