By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
I think it’s certainly fair to say that Coach Dana Holgorsen’s struggling West Virginia football team now has lost two very winnable games in the Big 12 that it might well have won this season.
The first was that 16-7 loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 7 in Norman, Okla., and the other was last Saturday’s 37-27 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech before a homecoming crowd of 54,089 chilled fans in Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) folded like an accordion or umbrella while giving up 21 unanswered points during the final 18 minutes to the 16th-ranked Red Raiders (7-0, 4-0 Big 12).
Up to that point, WVU had played pretty well and capitalized on a couple of defensive breaks to forge a 27-16 advantage in the third quarter. It’s certainly sad that the Gold and Blue could not have held onto that lead.
The Mountaineers, seven-point underdogs, netted a mere 29 yards in the fourth quarter. During that skid, they also went three-and-out on four of their five offensive possessions.
As a result, West Virginia suffered a second straight setback for the first time this year.
Holgorsen, who’s only in his third year as a head coach at any level, obviously was unhappy at his post-game press conference.
He said, “We started feeling pretty good about ourselves in the middle of the third quarter when it was 27-16, then the game went nowhere. We refused to make a play offensively, defensively or special teams the last quarter and a half.
“And we refused to coach well enough to be able to win the game. Obviously, that will get adjusted.”
The Mountaineers’ embarrassing 3-4 season’s start is the program’s poorest in 10 years. The 2003 team, coached by Rich Rodriguez (in his third season), also was 3-4 after seven games.
But that squad then won five consecutive contests, lost to Maryland in the Gator Bowl, and finished 8-5. Could this year’s team bounce back similarly? Time will tell.
Holgorsen, who was hired by Athletic Director Oliver Luck in 2011 mainly because of his great success as an offensive coordinator elsewhere, now is 5-10 in his teams’ last 15 games. That stretches back to last year’s 49-14 shellacking at Texas Tech on Oct. 23, 2012. That beating ended a sparkling 5-0 start and No. 5 ranking, while starting a 2-6 collapse en route to a 7-6 season’s record.
Obviously, it’s something from which West Virginia has yet to recover.
In retrospect, making that sudden skid still puzzling is the fact three offensive players remain rated among WVU’s all-time greatest standouts.
All-America quarterback Geno Smith, All-America four-way scorer Tavon Austin and record-setting wide receiver Stedman Bailey were major contributors to numerous wins at WVU.
While Holgorsen has been quoted as saying he was not losing any sleep over their departure to the NFL, I would think thousands of Mountaineer football fans wish those three extremely talented athletes were still here.
By the way, West Virginia’s combined yield of 1,445 yards to Baylor and Texas Tech set a school record for back-to-back games. The Bears’ 872 yards were the most ever for a single game.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers are preparing for Saturday’s Big 12 game at Kansas State. The Wildcats are 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the Big 12, and coming off a bye week.
That contest is set to start at 3:45 p.m. KSU crushed WVU 55-14 a year ago in Morgantown.