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WVU football: Mountaineers, Horned Frogs going deep into roster

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- First Iowa State beat TCU on Oct. 6 to end the longest winning streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The Horned Frogs had won 12 straight games overall and 25 straight conference games, with 24 coming in the Mountain West and one in the Big 12. That, too, was an FBS high.

On Saturday, Oklahoma State handed TCU a 36-14 loss and ended the FBS-best streak of 33 straight games with at least 20 points.

The Cowboys now lead with 33 straight 20-point games.

Don't look now, but TCU's other odd seat atop college football is in peril.

The Horned Frogs and Texas have both played an FBS-high 16 true freshmen.

No. 25 West Virginia, which hosts TCU in Saturday's game (3 p.m., Fox) at Mountaineer Field, has played 12.

"I don't think anyone wants to," TCU Coach Gary Patterson said. "As a coach, we'd all like to redshirt kids."

Neither the Mountaineers nor Horned Frogs have had much choice.

Patterson played five true freshman last season - and that was the most he'd ever used at the school.

His program has experienced mass attrition in recent years, though, with graduation and other departures.

"In our case, we had to play freshmen," Patterson said. "We didn't have anybody else."

TCU lost 20 seniors in 2010 and 19 last year. A drug bust in February forced Patterson to dismiss four players and three were starters at linebacker, defensive tackle and cornerback. TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big East) has just 11 seniors on scholarship now.

"Up until last year, I'd never played more than three, but last year, because the Rose Bowl team graduated six wide receivers, we had to play three just at wide receiver," Patterson said. "Most people don't understand you only have X amount of scholarships at each position."

The Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) find themselves in a similar situation, though the necessity has been different. Coach Dana Holgorsen inherited shortages at some spots on offense, defense and special teams and the season started with freshmen starters at receiver and safety and backups at defensive end, nose guard, cornerback and safety. Others played starting spots on special teams.

Yet WVU is still blending in freshmen later in the season. Freshmen that were backups started at defensive end and cornerback the past two games. Travares Copeland made his college debut against Texas Tech. He started at inside receiver a week later in place of freshman Jordan Thompson. Outside receiver Devonte Robinson made his debut against Kansas State.

"We make those decisions based on practice," Holgorsen said. "We talked here a lot in camp about freshmen receivers and who'd be able to play. We knew there was some promise in there. From a talent standpoint we thought Jordan, Devonte and Travares were going to be able to help us.

"You don't want to put them out there if guys like (redshirt freshmen) K.J. Myers or Dante Campbell are better. When we made the decisions, we felt like those guys were a little better. We kept practicing and practicing and saw the younger guys getting better while the other guys stayed the same. It comes back to playing time being the biggest motivator for kids. If it is, they'll continue to get better. If it's not, they won't."

WVU's freshman class hasn't made much of an impact beyond safety Karl Joseph. He's second on the team with 52 tackles. Thompson had one yard rushing and 74 yards receiving before Copeland's arrival. Safety K.J. Dillon has 15 tackles and plays multiple special teams.

Long snapper John DePalma has started every game and linebacker Garrett Hope has been active on coverage teams. Cornerback Nana Kyeremeh started in place of injured Brodrick Jenkins against Kansas State, but shared time with freshman Rick Rumph. Kyeremeh has two pass breakups and both players have been picked on at times by the opponent.

Eric Kinsey started in place of injured defensive end Will Clarke against Texas Tech, but didn't play against Kansas State. He and defensive end Korey Harris and nose guard Christian Brown have combined for eight tackles and one tackle for a loss.

"Aside from the fact that we would like our 20 freshmen to be seniors, we need to, from a mentality standpoint, just grow up," Holgorsen said. "We can't use the excuse of inexperience. We can't use the excuse of not having enough snaps. Nobody wants to hear it. I don't want to hear it. We have to grow and play older than we are."

TCU, which is also tied for the national lead with 28 true and redshirt freshmen, has had greater contributions from the true freshmen class, but has also relied on them longer than WVU has. There are 12 freshmen in the two-deep, plus the team's kicker, punter and punt returner. Four have started games.

"I think all the freshmen we've played, the team realized it was pretty obvious they were better than the guys in front of them," Patterson said.

Defensive end Devonte Fields leads the Big 12 and is first among the nation's freshmen with 14 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. Running back B.J. Catalon leads the team with 362 yards rushing and averages 5.1 yards per carry.

Punter Ethan Perry is a midseason Ray Guy Award candidate and leads the conference and ranks No. 6 nationally with a 47.2-yard average. Kicker Jaden Oberkrom set a school and Big 12 record with six field goals against Texas Tech. Cornerback Deante' Gray set a school record with 160 punt return yards and had a 70-yard score against Grambling.

"They keep getting better and I think they're starting to understand the level of expectation we're looking for and I think the kids like that," Patterson said. "They don't want us to treat them as freshmen. They want to get a chance to be as good as they can be. We understand they're going to be a lot stronger in three years than they are right now, but we're trying to build with them.

"It's been a lot of fun. It's been one of the more fun years I've had coaching, but it's as much of a tear-your-hair-out year also because you don't know what to expect. It's been interesting."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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