WVU football: Big 12 'wear and tear' taking a toll on Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia fans had never heard of Dana Holgorsen the last time Kansas won a Big 12 game. They probably didn't want to hear what the Mountaineers coach said following the 31-19 defeat Saturday.
"This program is not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12," he said after the Jayhawks ended a 27-game league losing streak and won for the first time in Big 12 play since November 2010.
What hurts most is it's probably true, even in Holgorsen's third season. The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) have myriad issues with game plans, execution, effort and the coaching responsible for each, but nothing is quite as problematic as the roster.
It merely begins with the dilapidated defense, where two players were lost for the season before it started and six more have yielded to season-ending injuries since. Another eight regular contributors have missed at least a game. The starting lineup for the Jayhawks was the 10th different one in 11 games this season and it only got worse by the end.
When the Mountaineers started the second half down 17-7, they were without safety Darwin Cook, who was replaced by redshirt freshman Jarrod Harper. WVU had five players on the field who weren't starters when WVU lost to Texas Tech, which was when the defense's problems started to show.
In addition to Harper, the Mountaineers saw true freshmen Darrien Howard, Marvin Gross and Jeremy Tyler play stretches to address other injuries on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
"If you're replacing your starters with true freshmen, you're not where you want to be," Holgorsen said. "We've got guys out there who are not ready to play at this level yet."
Holgorsen said Monday on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference that he wanted to have Howard, Gross and Tyler redshirt this season, but that the Mountaineers were left with no other options. They're emblematic of the roster-wide depth trouble WVU has in its second Big 12 season.
"I'm not blaming anything on anyone because that's part of the game, but you've got to be able to have depth in the Big 12," Holgorsen said. "You've got to be able to handle a lot of snaps and you've got to be able to handle injuries. Right now, we're not where we need to be."
Howard, Gross and Tyler could have joined 10 other true freshmen and one junior college transfer who joined the team on scholarship as part of the 2013 recruiting class and are redshirting this season. Additionally, running back Andrew Buie led the team in rushing in 2012, but enrolled this semester. He remains on the roster and apparently in the team's plans. Linebacker Shaq Petteway and cornerback Nana Kyeremeh, who were injured in the preseason, and nose guard Christian Brown and running back Dustin Garrison are candidates for medical redshirts, but were barely available this season.
Additionally, freshman quarterback Chavas Rawlins left the team after spring practice, junior college linebacker d'Vante Henry was dismissed from the team in September after he was arrested for second-degree sexual assault and receiver Ronald Carswell was suspended the day before the loss at TCU.
That's 18 bodies WVU couldn't use for most or all of this season, plus Carswell. He'd been a starter averaging a team-best 20.6 yards per catch, but might not be a part of the future if Holgorsen dismisses him when the coach revisits the situation after the season.
That follows WVU's 2012 recruiting class, which saw 10 players sign national letters of intent and either leave the team or never play for it. Included among the 10 were four receivers.
By strategy or by circumstances, the Mountaineers are dealing with the reality that 29 scholarship players aren't available this season. A team gets 85 scholarships and can have no more than 105 total players at its disposal.
"Everything falls on me," Holgorsen said. "You can't just sit there and snap your fingers and fix it. You've got to keep building a program. We've been heading that way going on a whole year, but it's not where it needs to be."
He's getting closer, if only in numbers for now. WVU has just 12 scholarship seniors on the roster and will probably sign enough players in February to fulfill the full allotment for the first time since Holgorsen arrived in December 2010, though this class will have contributions from four assistant coaches in their first year on the staff.
The Mountaineers have 50 players on scholarship in their freshman, redshirt freshman, sophomore and redshirt sophomore classes, meaning nearly 60 percent of the possible scholarships have joined the team since Holgorsen's first class in 2011. Holgorsen said he liked the "trajectory" the Mountaineers have established.
"If you look out there, the people we're putting out on the field are part of the recruiting class last year and the recruiting class the year before," Holgorsen said. "The challenge is to just try to get that better. I do think recruiting is getting better and I do think it's got to continue to get better."
All of which leads Holgorsen to point out a silver lining to the first season without a bowl game since 2001. The Mountaineers will have a lot of free time at their disposal after the season ends Nov. 30 against Iowa State (1-9, 0-7). The 4 p.m. game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
"We'll get back to work quicker in January," he said. "The first Monday in January, we'll be working. We'll be working before the kids report. Recruiting never ends and we'll probably pay a little more attention to it this January.
"Maybe we'll have a lot of coaches and players sitting at home over the holidays saying, 'Boy, everyone on TV is having a good time going to a bowl game. It'd sure be nice to do that.' How do you do it? You work harder, you recruit better, you stay the course and you develop players."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blog.dailymail.com/wvu.