MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There was something obviously ironic about how the final game of West Virginia's season ended up being the longest one.
The Mountaineers, now literally, could not finish.
They needed three overtimes and 4 hours, 8 minutes to bow out 52-44 to Iowa State, a "disappointing end to a disappointing season," in the words of Coach Dana Holgorsen. His third season in charge ended with a 4-8 record overall, a 2-7 mark in the Big 12 and one more lethal lull that came to define WVU.
"Rough year," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "That game was pretty indicative of the whole year probably."
The loss to Iowa State followed a puzzling pattern in which the Mountaineers would play well, certainly well enough to win, before playing poorly enough in the third and fourth quarters to lose.
They led Texas Tech 26-17 and lost 37-27. They led Kansas Sate 12-7 and lost 35-12. They led TCU 27-17 and needed overtime to win 30-27. They led Texas 26-16 and lost 47-40 in overtime.
What happened against the Cyclones, who finished their season 3-9 with two wins in Big 12 play, was probably the most complete example of the best and the worst the Mountaineers were capable of in their first losing season since 2001
They led 17-0 in the first quarter, 31-7 in the second quarter and 38-21 with 13:42 left in the game. They somehow lost, thus setting the course for an offseason that began Sunday morning and starts with an obvious focus.
"We talked about finishing all year long," Holgorsen said. "Obviously, that's going to be something that's got to be addressed in the offseason when it comes to the issues we had this year. We've had issues closing games this year. Why can't we close games? It comes down to execution, a burning desire to win, a collection of guys who don't want to let each other down, coaches and players included.
"Obviously, we're not at that point right now."
Holgorsen need not discover why his team couldn't win games. He needs to ask himself how he can keep it from happening again. Does he overhaul strength and conditioning? Does he make more changes to a staff he gave quite the makeover the past two years? Does he bank on maturity and continuity he spoke at length about the final two weeks of this season?
Whatever the direction, the resolution is no less important than identifying a quarterback for the 2014 season that begins in Atlanta against Alabama.
Despite the record, despite becoming the first Big 12 team in six years to lose to Kansas and Iowa State, WVU wasn't as inept as finishing four games below .500 would suggest.