MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- About a year ago, West Virginia's football team was 5-2 and ranked No. 25 by the Associated Press.
A blowout loss to Syracuse left the Mountaineers to wonder about an offense that couldn't play as fast as it wanted and handcuffs in the form of players who didn't quite fit all of Coach Dana Holgorsen's plans for the present and the future.
Today, the Mountaineers are again ranked No. 25 by the media with another 5-2 record after successive blowout losses. They're wondering if fast is too fast on offense again and worrying about youth and inexperience and what that means for today and tomorrow.
Who says the game is changing?
"That was a little bit different," Holgorsen said. "Whenever you put two losses like that back-to-back, it's a little different. There are some challenges this year that didn't exist with last year's team, and there were some challenges last year that don't exist with this team."
WVU's 2011 offense didn't quite understand how Holgorsen wanted to play and needed the regular season, month before the bowl, offseason conditioning, spring practice, summer workouts and then preseason practice to get things to where they were just two weeks ago.
WVU's 2012 defense isn't entirely different. All the things Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson are trying to coordinate and co-coordinate on defense require time. This Big 12 just doesn't give you time, not when you're whisking freshmen starters into the battered group.
And the Mountaineers aren't getting ready for Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida. It's TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas. That's more than a little bit different.
"It boils down to having to bounce back and that doesn't happen overnight," Holgorsen said. "We bounced back last season. This is different because of who we are playing."
Translation: It might get worse before it gets better.
A year ago, Holgorsen scaled back on offense. Third downs were so bad that he changed play calls on first and second down. The Mountaineers played slower, snapped the ball fewer times, focused on the handful of things they felt they could do and trusted the defense could make the inevitable lesser output work.
And work it did.
Now the Mountaineers are again struggling on offense and can't sustain drives. Yet WVU's first-down offense has been bad and that's compromising second and third down, which combines to stall drives and jeopardize games.
WVU has had 63 first-down snaps the past two games. Twenty of those have resulted in a loss of yardage or no gain, which means 20 second-and-10 or more downs for an offense that's averaging 4.7 and 3.9 yards per play in those two games. Good luck getting 10 yards that way.