By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It could very well be that the seeds of West Virginia’s thus far disappointing season (6-3, 2-2 Big East) were planted when the clock struck zero at the Champs Sports Bowl.
West Virginia lost that game to North Carolina State, 23-7.
But that’s not the Mountaineers lost that day in late December.
Guys like Chris Neild, J.T. Thomas, Robert Sands, Anthony Leonard and even Jock Sanders were gone.
Not only were the first four integral components to what was one of the nation’s best defenses, they were also tremendous team leaders.
And that has surprisingly been lacking this season.
With quarterback Geno Smith returning, along with defensive end Bruce Irvin and linebacker Najee Goode, as well as a few linemen, WVU seemed to have an ample stable of leaders.
But coming off a 38-35 loss to Louisville in Morgantown Saturday, something is obviously wrong.
I’ve heard a litany of potential reasons, all that have some validity.
— The offense scores too quick, leaving the defense on the field too long, tiring the young unit out.
— The team is turnover prone and not adept at getting turnovers the other way.
— First-year coach Dana Holgorsen has lost the team.
Truth of the matter is, the team hasn’t any internal player leadership from guys who should be leaders. And that in turn leads to problems with team chemistry.
And Holgorsen realizes it.
He was asked Tuesday at his weekly press conference who the leaders of the team are.
“They know who they are,” Holgorsen said. “That’s something that we talk about in our room. They know who they are. Is it happening consistently? No, it’s not.”
In a loss to Syracuse, WVU didn’t show up. Surprising, given that this same Orange team came into Morgantown last year and beat WVU. You’d think that would have inspired somebody.
And against Louisville, the Cardinals simply outplayed West Virginia. They made their luck. WVU made it close, but when they had a chance to stop Louisville, they couldn’t do it.
“We talked about it all week, but we didn’t have any energy — our sidelines were dead, and there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement when things did happen for us. So it’s a problem that’s being addressed, and we’re going to try hard to fix it,” Holgorsen said.
It is concerning to the coach, but he knows what has to happen to fix the problem.
“It’s buying into the system,” Holgorsen said. “They have to buy into what’s being said from a head coach standpoint, to a coordinator standpoint, to a position coach standpoint. It’s not my team — it’s their team.
“We’ve got to have guys that have invested enough into the program, that have enough to them, that step up and give their absolute best all the time. The leaders pinpoint guys who aren’t buying in, and they slap them around to the point that they get them bought in.”
And apparently, that isn’t happening.
But Holgorsen is dead set on fixing the problem.
When they go to Cincinnati on Saturday for a noon kickoff, only 55 will make the trip.
“We’re going to take who wants to win,” Holgorsen said. “We’re going to take who wants to pull for his teammates and who wants to be all in on this thing, not guys that pout and mope because they’re not playing or any of the rest of it. We’re going to be a united team, and the only way I know how to get that accomplished is to make sure that we’re only taking people that are focused and headed in the right direction.”