The West Virginia football team will not play in a bowl game this season after a recent loss to lowly Kansas which put the finishing touches on an unusually lousy season in Morgantown.
Excuses can be found far and wide, from inexperienced quarterback play, to injuries on the defensive side of the ball, even in the dysfunctional facilities that apparently are holding the Mountaineers (4-7) back from greatness.
Last weekend, West Virginia managed to lose to a Kansas team that hadn’t won a Big 12 conference game since 2010, which is rather embarrassing for head coach Dana Holgorsen and his squad.
The Jayhawks caught the Mountaineers at just the right time, coming off a tough overtime loss to Texas, West Virginia was primed for a monumental breakdown, and man did the Jayhawks ever kick them to the curb.
We can harp on the Kansas loss all we want, but the downward spiral of this season runs much deeper than just one loss to a struggling program. After all, if West Virginia doesn’t come prepared to play against any Big 12 opponent, even Kansas for that matter, they’re going to lose.
So for now, the Mountaineers have forced themselves into an undesirable situation of having to play their final game next weekend, against an equally bad Iowa State team, in a matchup that means absolutely nothing.
This, in so many ways, will be a fitting end to a forgettable season.
Let’s take a look at five reasons why West Virginia’s program has hit its lowest point in quite some time.
5. The move to the Big 12 conference
In retrospect, while moving to the Big 12 was great from a stability standpoint and obviously a revenue one, West Virginia is now up against a much tougher set of opponents week in and week out. There was once a time when WVU could have an off week in the Big East and still come up with a victory, against Connecticut or Rutgers, but not playing well on any given day in the Big 12 almost certainly amounts to a loss.
The Big 12 has been very unforgiving to the Mountaineers on the field of play, and it may take quite some time before they’re able to rise from mediocrity in their new conference. With programs like Baylor and Texas Tech on the rise, it’s going to be an uphill battle from this point on.
4. A struggling defense
Since entering Big 12 play, West Virginia hasn’t had many answers for the spread offensive attacks that they’ve faced on a weekly basis. It’s difficult to blame the poor play on just one unit, because they’ve all struggled at one point or another. There’s barely any pass rush to speak of, the secondary seems to have improved only slightly, and a few linebackers have stepped up, but the linebacker position has been hampered with injuries.
Whether it’s a talent issue, a motivation issue, or simply a schematic problem that stems from the way the players are being coached, West Virginia’s defense is still giving up far too many points. They’ve shown some improvement, albeit very little. The Mountaineers had the worst defense in school history last season and it looks like this year’s won’t be far behind, giving up 31.6 points per-game.
3. The loss of some great talent
Coming into this season, most figured the Mountaineers would struggle without Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey on offense. Well, they’ve struggled and then some to put it mildly. Going into the last game of the season against Iowa State, WVU still has yet to find a successor to Geno Smith, and this is a very uncomforting thought when it comes to the future of the program.
Quarterbacks Paul Millard and Clint Trickett just don’t seem to be the answer at this point. The best and only hope for next season is that Ford Childress steps up, takes the spot, and runs with it. Replacing all that talent on offense doesn’t just happen overnight, because WVU lost nearly all of its offensive production from a year ago, they’ve found it quite hard to get on the scoreboard, even with head coach Dana Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” system.
2. The coaching staff
Speaking of head coach Dana Holgorsen and his “Air Raid” attack; well, it’s not working! I’m sure most Mountaineer fans have had just about enough of the “Air Raid” for one season. I’m a big believer in talent, and that talent on the field ultimately wins games, not the guys in the press box or on the sidelines. Holgorsen has proven he can score points with top-notch talent on the field, but can he recruit top-notch talent to run his system? This, I think, has yet to be seen.
While at West Virginia, Holgorsen has won with players that have been recruited by previous coaching staffs. How he’s able to evaluate the talent that he brings to Morgantown will play a vital role in whether or not he gets to hang around. Ultimately, Holgorsen and his staff have to be able to recruit a higher caliber of player if they’re going to win consistently in the Big 12. Going into his fourth season, the current players will nearly all have been recruited under Holgorsen’s watch, how they progress will either become his undoing or his glory.
1. Uncertainty at quarterback
In the wake of Geno Smith’s departure, the program has been left with tons of inexperience at the quarterback position, which can easily be seen by flipping the channel to any Mountaineer game. Inconsistency is everywhere under center, and it’s plagued WVU from day one this season. The scary thing is, next season might not be much more progressive. With the same quarterbacks returning, Holgorsen had better say a prayer to himself in the hopes of one actually emerging, or it’s likely to be another season spent solely on “improving the facilities.”
As I’ve said before, quarterback Ford Childress seems to be the only hope for a revival up to this point; his progress is crucial to the program. Childress has the ability, he needs to put it to good use during spring practice and claim the job. Both Paul Millard and Clint Trickett have looked lost out there this season, and while the two might make substantial progress in the offseason, will it really be enough to guide West Virginia past mediocrity? It seems unlikely.
It wouldn’t be wise to count on incoming freshman quarterback William Crest to help West Virginia right out of the gate either, so until a quarterback is found, Mountaineer fans can only expect more of the same, unfortunately.
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