WVU football: No room for error in final games
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The occasion Dana Holgorsen had been trying to avoid finally arrived Sunday. West Virginia is in a must-win situation and has to beat Kansas Saturday and then Iowa State November 30 to reach six wins and bowl eligibility.
The 47-40 loss to Texas dropped the Mountaineers to 4-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big 12. To be eligible for one of this season's 35 bowl games, a team has to win at least six games
"We held a quick team meeting and I told the team I was proud of their effort," Holgorsen said. "Their effort was phenomenal. Their fight was phenomenal. I was really proud of them. They were disappointed mentally and physically pretty drained, so we made it quick."
WVU has played in a bowl game every season since missing after Rich Rodriguez finished 3-8 in 2001. The Mountaineers have the easiest possible path in the Big 12 as they close against the teams in the bottom two sports in the conference standings. The Jayhawks (2-7) and the Cyclones (1-8) are each 0-6 in the Big 12.
Kansas, which has won both of its games at home, plays host to the Mountaineers at noon. The game will be televised on Root Sports. The Jayhawks have lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games, which is two shy of Baylor's record, and have scored fewer than 20 points in eight straight games.
Iowa State has lost six straight games and has managed only 58 points in the last four.
"At this point, you've got to start talking about winning the next one to get us to a bowl," Holgorsen said. "So we've got to win this one, or a bowl game is out of reach. That will be used as motivation this week. If we get the victory, we'll take the same approach two weeks from now against Iowa State to get to a bowl."
A bowl-eligible WVU would be a candidate for two games. It could play the sixth pick from the Big Ten in the Texas Bowl Dec. 27 in Houston's Reliant Stadium or the fourth pick from the American Athletic Conference in the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, N.Y.
The Texas Bowl pays about $1.7 million per team, while the Pinstripe Bowl, which WVU lost a year ago to Syracuse, pays about $1.8 million per team.
Yet while Kansas and Iowa State have been sluggish as they've struggled, the Mountaineers have been competitive and actually led Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech in the second half.
"I wouldn't say what they've done is blow leads," Kansas Coach Charlie Weis said. "Anytime you're up big and you end up giving the lead up, that's the perspective, but they were a little bit unlucky the past game. Watching that game, it's fourth down late in the fourth quarter and (the Longhorns) get the conversion near midfield. I think that in this league it's tough and with so many teams with high-powered offenses you don't ever rule teams out. You can never have enough points."
The Mountaineers have succumbed to those offenses and have had issues playing defense and stopping the other team on third down. The Lonhgorns were 1-for-11 on third down to start the game, but clicked on seven straight on three consecutive touchdown drives and converted 9 of their final 12 in the game.
It was the continuation of what's become a significant problem for the Mountaineers. They gave up the final 28 points in the Kansas State game and the final 21 points in the Texas Tech game and were fortunate to survive overtime at TCU when giving up the final 10 points of regulation.
WVU ranks No. 98 nationally in third down conversion defense and has allowed 72 conversions in 164 attempts (43.9 percent).
"It really boiled down to that we simply could not get off the field on third down in the second half," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "The first half, we executed, and then I don't know what happened. Maybe it was confidence. We've talked about it and stressed it and really emphasized it the past three weeks. Play to win. Play aggressive. Stay aggressive."
WVU's offense wasn't really the problem, either, even when starting quarterback Clint Trickett was knocked out on the field when he was sacked for the fourth time in the first quarter. He didn't return to the game, and Holgorsen said Monday that Trickett could start against Kansas if he progresses throughout the week. If not, the start would go to Paul Millard, who passed for 259 yards and led five scoring drives against Texas, but also committed four turnovers.
Forty points has historically been enough to win games at WVU, though. Before last season, the Mountaineers were 168-0 when scoring 40 or more points. They won their first four games with 40 or more points last season. Since then, they're 2-3 with losses to Oklahoma last season and Baylor and Texas this season.
WVU was one play away from beating the Sooners and the Longhorns.
"The flip side of it is they've done a much better job scoring," Weis said. "They went ahead and dropped 40 on a really good defense this past week. I think they've improved, even through they're obviously disappointed with the endings of some of these games."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.