Mountaineer Gameday; Learning from losses is key for rest of the season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There once was a time when college football was played in 10-game regular seasons, never mind 11-game seasons.
We're well beyond that now, but where West Virginia is concerned, it might as well treat the remainder of the 2012 season as a throwback season.
This is now a 10-game schedule. If the Mountaineers, still ranked despite being routed in back-to-back weeks by 76 points, want to salvage things, they need to eliminate the memories of the 49-14 loss to Texas Tech and the 55-14 loss to Kansas State.
Beginning with Saturday's 3 p.m. Fox game against TCU at Milan Puskar Stadium, the Mountaineers must remember they were once 5-0 and ranked No. 5 by the media and No. 4 by the coaches. They must try to imitate that team during the five games left to play in this regular season.
The previous two games, the painful moments and headlines each produced? Learn from it and then dispatch it.
"We tell our team not to worry about what the paper says, what the rankings say, what the television says or what the Internet says," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "All of people that said you were great are now saying you are so bad. Why pay attention? Pay attention to what we say in here."
Well, the rankings, television and Internet have points to make and to be understood. WVU was throughout this season overrated. How much is debatable, but there were warning signs that the lows were coming, even at the height of all the highs. This was a young team without much depth at the start of a season that was going to test the team's stamina and the roster's mettle.
The offense would be good, but would have bad Saturdays - and the worst would come when the defense couldn't help. That defense has only really been a surprise in that it reached such extreme depths so quickly. It's still a bunch of kids recruited to play a 3-3-5 playing for the first time in a 3-4 for a first-time defensive coordinator in an absolutely unforgiving offensive league.
Issues are arriving sooner than solutions and WVU is actually getting younger and thinner as the season progresses. These are more explanations than excuses, but it's far more truth than fiction - and it's a tough truth to take.
Yet what the Mountaineers have lacked, in their own words, is a certain toughness. The void has defined the losses and how the first defeat was allowed to create the second.
"We're not happy about it from a program standpoint," Holgorsen said. "The coaches and players all realize it. The message to the team after the (Kansas State) game was that we need to grow up. We need to become a mature football team. We got beat by a mature football team.
"We need to be mentally tough and physically tough and we need to improve ourselves each and every day. This isn't a deal where we're going to just wake up and fix things without hard work. We've got to get up and get back to work and we've got to understand we need to get our technique better and get our confidence back on all three sides of the ball."
The Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) haven't been beaten solely on the scoreboard the past two games. They've had their minds and bodies beaten, too.
WVU came out flat against Texas Tech and assumed something the Red Raiders did not. The Mountaineers trailed early and never had it in them to follow the plan and get back in the game. They collapsed beneath the weight of the momentum. A game later, they ran into a team that trumped them in strength, experience and discipline and they bounced off, stumbled backward and never found their footing to fight back and get in the game.
These are the signs of an inexperienced team, but not necessarily a young team. The Mountaineers are playing 12 true freshmen and a bunch of other redshirt freshmen and sophomores, but they're playing as an entire team that's new to the Big 12. Texas Tech and Kansas State are not. Neither are Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas.
TCU is, though, and a team that only last month led the FBS with 12 straight wins and 25 straight conference wins is struggling. The Horned Frogs (5-3, 2-3) have played 16 true freshmen and 12 redshirt freshmen and 70 percent of its roster is their freshman and sophomore classes.
But this isn't the Mountain West, much the same as the Big East isn't the Big 12. Holgorsen said his program will need a year to understand what he already grasps after nine seasons as a Big 12 assistant. In the meantime, his inexperienced veterans have a duty to the rest of the team.
"We need the older guys to act older," Holgorsen said. "We need the older guys to bring along the younger kids. We need them to be tough when adversity hits.
"We played a team (Kansas State) that has that mastered. They are the most mature team in college football. They are very old, and they have played a lot of football. They are mentally tough, and their technique is not lost during the heat of the battle. We can learn a lot from playing a team like that."
They better because the remainder of the 2012 schedule is not like the remainder of the 2011 schedule. WVU was 5-2 last year, but removed some bad things and remembered some good times and finished 9-3. These Mountaineers are in a similar spot, but they're preparing for an entirely different and altogether more challenging conclusion.
If they haven't learned from their missteps, or how the opponents have stepped all over them, they're in trouble. If they've picked up a few pointers, if practice during the open week and then in preparations for TCU, was as good as the Mountaineers have reported, they can win the second half of this season.
"When you have practice, don't go through the motions. Go out and get better," Holgorsen said.
"If they think about anything other than that, they are not thinking about the right stuff. It is good exposure if you are ranked highly coming into the season, but I knew all of these games were going to be pretty challenging."