MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There was irony within the anger as Tavon Austin spoke following Saturday's 39-38 double overtime against TCU.
"From how we started at the beginning of the seasons, it looks nothing like it looks now," he said.
The Mountaineers are now absent from the polls for the first time in a year, just three games and four weeks after they reached the top five for the first time since 2007.
An explanation is found when Austin's words are untwisted.
WVU's offense has mostly vanished in this three-game losing streak. The players have come to realize defenses are doing the same things to stop the Mountaineers.
"It's the formula: Back everybody up," quarterback Geno Smith said. "Obviously, teams are very mindful of the fact we have a potent passing offense and it's very hard to throw against eight-man coverages every down."
There is almost no argument, except that Coach Dana Holgorsen says TCU dropped seven defenders and rushed four. The point remains. Defenses are content to guard against WVU's deep passes and explosive plays by giving chances to the inconsistent running game and the short passes that don't often accumulate enough to fuel a touchdown drive.
WVU has totaled just 296 yards rushing the past three games and averaged 3.1 yard per carry. Not one of the past 97 carries has gone for longer than 15 yards, which has emboldened defenses.
"As of late, teams are kind of disrespecting our run game," Smith said. "They're totally disregarding it and putting one linebacker in the box against our sets. Sometimes we go with two or three backs and they still disregard the run."
The past three opponents have dropped their second-level defenders and trusted them to cover WVU's underneath routes. They've moved their safeties deeper to protect against deep passes. The result? Four vertical throws for plays covering 20 yards or more.
Texas Tech allowed a 38-yard pass in the first quarter and a 20-yard play in the fourth. Kansas State allowed nothing for more than 13 yards.
WVU took only a few shots deep against TCU. One was 22-yard touchdown pass to J.D. Woods that Smith admits "could have been an interception." Another was intercepted when Smith badly missed while trying to force a deep pass into double coverage off a play action fake that fooled no one. Stedman Bailey scored a 25-yard touchdown on the first play of the second overtime while his defender committed pass interference.
The Horned Frogs covered everything else deep and smothered most of the shorter plays.