By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The real world in which West Virginia football now exists is not a pleasant place to be.
“I guess this would be an all-time low,” Coach Dana Holgorsen said after Saturday’s 31-19 loss at Kansas eliminated West Virginia from bowl contention.
No Rose Bowl, no Fiesta or Orange or even Pinstripe Bowl.
No fancy sunglasses or sweet sweat suits as bowl booty. No midnight room service and no trips to SeaWorld.
That’s for the winning teams.
“We’ll have a lot of coaches and players sitting at home over the holidays and say, ‘Boy, everybody on TV’s having a good time going to a bowl game. Sure would be nice to do that,’” Holgorsen said. “But what do you do? You work harder. You recruit better. You stay the course. You develop your players. You buy in.”
All of that is true, of course, but by saying it you are also saying you don’t believe that this year they did buy in, be it the players or the coaches, and one suspects that might get some argument from within.
What happened to West Virginia this year didn’t have anything to do with buying into the program.
The players tried. They tried hard.
They cared, too.
The problems were different. They were running a quarterback-heavy system while being light on quarterbacks.
That’s not even opinion. It has proven out over the year for whatever reason, right from the start when no one really stood out and grasped the position.
Add quarterbacks not yet ready to take over the system to wide receivers with virtually no experience, and the situation was just wrong to do what Holgorsen likes to do.
Then you had a year where the defense started off giving hope but as the intensity of the opposition increased, so, too, did the points against column, the scores mounting as one player after another went down with injury until the defense really didn’t have much hope of holding anyone under 30 points ... not even Kansas.
The Texas game actually had become WVU’s Alamo.
A season worth of frustration was on the line in that game, a victory that they seemed to have won and would have saved pride and given hope for the future.
When they let it slip away, it sapped meaning from the remainder of the season.
“This week was just a little off,” junior college transfer wide receiver Kevin White remarked honestly after the game. “It was a big loss when we played Texas — we should have won that game. Then we come in here and like, ‘Aw, we’re playing Kansas.’”
An easy opening drive to a touchdown, rather than lighting a fire, created a comfort level that was the worst thing that could have happened.
The edge was gone and never would come back.
What they learned was exactly what they should have known about because it was the same in the Oklahoma State game, when the Cowboys came in as huge favorites over WVU, scored early on a 73-yard pass, then never could regain the edge as WVU fought the underdog battle and won.
This time the cleat was on the other foot and it was Kansas who shook off the early score and went on to win, leaving WVU nothing more than a wounded warrior to head into the offseason.
Does it get better next year?
Maybe. Probably a better chance next year than in two weeks, when they close out the season against Iowa State at home in a game that doesn’t hold much fan attraction, especially with the students gone over Thanksgiving holiday.
“Where we go from here, I don’t know,’’ Holgorsen said after Saturday’s loss. “I was planning on going to a bowl game, but now we’ll go back and do what we always do. We’ve got to evaluate where we’re at.
“Everything falls on me. You can’t just sit there and snap your fingers and fix it. You’ve got to keep building your program, and we’ve been doing that now going on a whole year. It’s just not where it needs to be.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.