By Cam Huffman
Kevin White might have said it best. After catching five passes for 77 yards — and drawing a couple of key pass interference calls — during West Virginia’s 37-27 loss to No. 16 Texas Tech Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium, the junior college transfer sat dejected in the team room fielding questions from reporters.
“We had the game, and we just let them take it,” said the junior from Plainfield, N.J., shaking his head as if he’d just been told that the world was flat. “We just didn’t finish it. I think it comes from within. We let one slip away.”
Indeed, the Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) had a second home upset of a nationally-ranked team all but locked up. Just as it did in the upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State on Sept. 28, WVU played with energy and emotion Saturday, building an 11-point third-quarter lead against the undefeated Red Raiders that seemed to have all the momentum in the Mountaineers’ corner.
But this time, they couldn’t finish the deal. Texas Tech scored 21 unanswered points and marched out of Morgantown with “Guns Up,” while the Mountaineers were left to wonder exactly what had happened.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for WVU’s late-game collapse. Keith Paterson’s rebuilt defense, which looked better at times, made things way too easy on the visitors, who scored three touchdowns over the final two quarters on drives that all lasted less than three-and-a-half minutes.
“They got into a tempo and rhythm, and we just couldn’t make a play,” said Patterson. “We got close a couple of times, but it’s frustrating.
“We got them into third downs and couldn’t get off the field. They were 9 of 15. That’s key.”
Patterson’s unit was able to make one crucial stop, forcing Texas Tech to punt and giving head coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense the ball down three points with 6:14 to go.
As it did throughout the final quarter, though, the offense shot itself in the foot — running for no gain on first down and losing yards on second down on the way to another three-and-out.
“It’s not the effort,” said Holgorsen, who also shares some of the blame, especially for not kicking a first-quarter field goal that could have proved huge in the final minutes. “The effort was fine. The will to win was not there.”
The more important question, though, is what happens to the will to win in the coming weeks and months? Does this Mountaineer team still believe? Can WVU play with the same effort away from Mountaineer Field? Where does Holgorsen’s club go from here?
“We go to Kansas State,” said junior quarterback Clint Trickett, providing the obvious answer. “I’m excited to play Coach (Bill) Snyder. I’ve looked up to him my whole life. It’s another Big 12 game.”
Trickett’s answer might be more telling than it seems on the surface. His attitude after a difficult loss was much the same as his teammates. It hurt, and the Mountaineer players admitted it hurt. But they didn’t seem ready to pack up their bags and call it a season.
“We just have to practice harder, stay consistent and try to forget about this game,” said junior wide receiver Kevin White, who is starting to emerge as the playmaker the WVU staff beleived he could be.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that want to win,” added Trickett, just before heading to the film room to revue his performance. “I’m not worried about that. We just have to execute.
“As a team, we all have to come together.”
It has to get easier for the Mountaineers. After facing four straight undefeated opponents and three straight ranked foes, WVU will face just just one team — Texas — over the final five weeks that currently has a winning record. The other four — Kansas State, TCU, Kansas and Iowa State — are a combined 8-17 overall and have just one Big 12 win among them.
With an effort like the one it showed Saturday, WVU appears to have a team capable of winning some games — if it can just learn how to win.
“When you’ve got somebody down, you’ve got to be like sharks in a tank,” said Patterson. “You have to smell it and just go take it.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.