By Cam Huffman
Pick a weekly press conference from any college football coach anywhere in the country, and it’s likely you’ll hear it mentioned. Reminders hang on the walls of training rooms and meeting rooms, and it’s often printed on T-shirts to serve as motivation.
A college football game, coaches and players will be happy to tell you, lasts 60 minutes.
Since the start of Big 12 play, though, West Virginia has had difficulty performing for the entire length of a game.
The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) trailed just 13-7 after 45 minutes in their Big 12 opener on the road against No. 16 Oklahoma, but a Sooner field goal in the final quarter put the home team two scores ahead. The OU running game, which had been shut down for most of the game, suddenly came on strong, and the Sooners were able to run out the clock and claim a victory against a worn down WVU defense.
The trend continued in WVU’s most recent home game, a 37-27 loss to Texas Tech. The Mountaineers led 27-16 with 4:36 left to play in the third quarter against the No. 16 Red Raiders, only to watch the visitors score the final 21 points and leave Mountaineer Field with a victory.
A week later, WVU led 12-7 in the third quarter on the road at Kansas State, before the Wildcats scored the final 28 points and won 35-12.
The Mountaineers, the coaches will remind you, aren’t that far from being 6-2 and in the mix in the Big 12 — if only the game were a little bit shorter.
“We haven’t finished well the past two weeks, but they’ve been competitive,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “The game last week (at KSU) was a lot more competitive than what the final score indicated. It’s not a moral victory to say we were in the game in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, that’s not my point. We are battling, but it’s not a winning effort.”
As the Mountaineers prepare to begin the final third of the regular season with a trip to TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) Saturday — a 3:30 p.m. game on ESPNU — there’s a key buzz word going around camp — finish.
And according to offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, that doesn’t just mean completing games. The message, he said, applies to specific situations.
“We got down near the red zone twice and didn’t score (against the Wildcats),” said Dawson. “We are big on finishing the drives and finishing everything. There’s a million different factors of why we didn’t execute.”
The motto also applies to the season as a whole. The 3-5 start has been painful for fans, coaches and players, but Holgorsen said what will be remembered most is how the team plays down the stretch.
And there’s plenty on the line. WVU needs wins in three of its final four regular season games just to become bowl eligible and add to its run of 11 straight bowl appearances.
“Because that number is sneaking up on us, it’ll probably be used as motivation,” Holgorsen admitted. “I feel like we have a lot to play for. I think the players feel like they have a lot to play for. What we do matters, and we have an obligation to put our best foot forward, get out there, practice hard and put our best foot forward on Saturday.”
“We have to win these four games,” agreed junior quarterback Clint Trickett, who’s expected to make his fifth straight start Saturday at Amon Carter Stadium against the Horned Frogs, who beat WVU 39-38 in two overtimes last year. “We try to treat every week as its own season. We try to put everything we have into each game.”
A game, he’s sure to be reminded, that is 60 minutes long.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.