WVU football: Team has not led in almost a month
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Once upon a time, early in a season that seemed headed for a fairy tale finish, West Virginia had played 229 minutes, 13 seconds without trailing.
The Mountaineers, now ranked No. 23, enter Saturday's game having played 120 consecutive minutes without the lead.
"The last two games we haven't started fast and it's been that same thing we've talked about forever where we need to get into a rhythm," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "We need to find that rhythm.
"It's just momentum. If those kids can get some confidence and keep it rolling, it's just crazy to be a part of it and to coach it when they guys can play on top of the world when they have just a little success."
Even worse for WVU, the opponent has scored on its opening drives the past two games. Texas Tech would extend to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter while Kansas State would lead 10-0 at the end of the first and 24-0 before the Mountaineers returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
"There's always that fright where you come off the ball and you're down and everyone just goes, 'All right, we're going to give up so many points and we're not going to score any, we're going to give up,'" center Joe Madsen said. "You can't have that attitude."
WVU (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) has only three touchdown drives the past two games and two were inconsequential fourth-quarter scores. The offense is 16-for-35 on third down, but just 2-for-5 in the first half of both games. The Mountaineers haven't been able to build and sustain drives, which has become a bigger problem as big plays have diminished.
There have been only two 20-yard plays the past two games and both were against Texas Tech.
"Great teams, champions, do a great job maintaining things when the momentum isn't on their side," quarterback Geno Smith said. "When things aren't going their way, they find ways to fight through that. Every game is not going to be as simple as you want it to be, even when everything is in your favor and guys are making incredible one-handed catches we had in the past and we have great blocking all around and the backs hit those big holes. Everyone has an off day."
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A YEAR AGO, one of WVU's bigger concerns during the season and then focuses throughout the offseason was depth on the offensive line. The Mountaineers used just five players for virtually all last season and didn't have many other bodies to use for even brief breaks.
This season, WVU is again using five players for a majority of its games. Left tackle Quinton Spain, left guard Josh Jenkins, Madsen, right guard Jeff Braun and right tackle Pat Eger have started six games together. There have been occasions where Jenkins and Braun have come out for injury and Nick Kindler has filled in when needed, but the starters have played 90.8 percent of the snaps.
Kindler started against Kansas State in place of Eger, who still played, at right tackle. Kindler played 29 snaps while fellow redshirt junior Eger played 37.
Fresh off the second open week of the season, Madsen said fatigue is not a factor. He's played all but four of the 534 offensive snaps this season. Spain and Jenkins have both played 522, Braun has played 483 and Eger has played 449.
"I feel like during the game, none of us is ever going to feel anything except the pains of the week," Madsen said. "That's just mandatory. Fortunately, we haven't had any serious injuries. I think Pat and Nick will continue to switch, just because they're young guys and in some situations people don't really step up so you've got to put in the other guy to see if he can step up."
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WVU RECEIVERS Travares Copeland and Devonte Robinson became the 11th and 12th true freshmen to play for WVU this season. Copeland made his debut against Texas Tech and Robinson debuted against Kansas State.
Copeland, an inside receiver, has caught four passes for 15 yards. Robinson, an outside receiver, hasn't caught a pass and played only a few snaps against the Wildcats.
Smith said they're targets for him and not merely freshmen.
"Those guys are very talented," Smith said. "At times their heads are spinning, which is common to all freshmen and young players overall, but those guys are doing a great job. They give maximum effort and come out and work hard.
"Those guys have a bright future and I expect those guys to do great things and I expect them to be team leaders. Right now, they're in a position where they're not asked to do a whole lot, but when they do get in, all we want is exceptional effort from those guys because they're talented enough to make plays."
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NOTES: The Horned Frogs (5-3, 2-3) have lost back-to-back games, but are still 22-7 after a loss in Coach Gary Patterson's 12 seasons. TCU is also 20-3 in its last 23 road games. ... TCU's last game in the Eastern Time Zone was a 14-10 win at Clemson in 2009. ... WVU has also lost back-to-back games, but earlier this season TCU had the nation's longest winning streak at 12 in a row, while the Mountaineers were second for a time with nine straight. TCU has six winning streaks of at least 12 games since 1999.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.