By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It’s tough to be a West Virginia University fan these days, maybe even tougher than to be a player or a coach.
See, a player or a coach can at least try to do something about the fate that has befallen this once-proud program.
All he can do is take it.
And it hurts.
See, football at the state university is an important asset in this state, somewhere right behind or just ahead of the coal industry.
Economically, the coal industry is more important, unless your name happens to be Dana Holgorsen or Oliver Luck.
But in a state that forever is fighting just to be recognized as something more than just the western part of Virginia to how many Americans, football at the university brings recognition and a sense of pride.
Before games, West Virginians stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
After games they stand for “Country Roads” and sing it just as loudly and just as proudly.
For more than three decades, West Virginia football was recognized as among America’s best, first under a Hall of Fame coach in Don Nehlen, then under Rich Rodriguez, who could have been elected governor before he not only lost the game that was going to give the Mountaineers a shot at a national championship game, but then sneaked out the back door in an armored car to coach at Michigan, a sin for which he has yet to be forgiven by many.
If WVU’s program slipped slightly under Bill Stewart artistically, that was forgivable as it still produced nine wins a year, entertaining programs and, at least, was West Virginian in style and grace.
But what has transpired under Luck and Holgorsen has been more disgrace than grace.
What Baylor did to WVU on Saturday night is illegal in 38 states ... or should be.
The Bears scored 73 points, which sounds like a lot and put in historical perspective is, considering that the only time in West Virginia history a team scored more came in 1904 when the Mountaineers traveled to Michigan to face an alumnus, Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost, who beat them 130-0.
The only other time you can find anything close to this came in WVU’s first football game ever, in 1891, when Washington & Jefferson scored 72 in a 72-0 rout.
But anyone who watched this game knows that had Art “Hurry Up” Briles not been friendly enough with Holgorsen to share a smile following the game, he could have pushed the 130 points Michigan scored, such was his offense with the first team on the field.
Eight touchdowns were scored in nine possessions of the first half, 56 Baylor points in all to go with 612 total yards at halftime.
But this wasn’t, as you might expect, Baylor striking swiftly through the air.
The Bears rushed for 468 yards, 10 more yards than WVU rushed for last year against Oklahoma when Tavon Austin burned the Sooners for an unprecedented 334 yards.
Eight of Baylor’s 10 touchdowns came on the ground.
What does that say about the coal miner mentality and toughness that WVU once was known for?
“Any time the opposing offense can be that dominant, you’re going to struggle,” Holgorsen said. “They came off the ball and established the line of scrimmage like I haven’t seen in quite some time. Any time that happens, it’s going to be a long day.”
This was such a long day that CNN found itself on a 28-hour news cycle.
“Give Baylor credit; they just physically whipped us,’’ said Mountaineer defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who had been credited with a rebirth of defense at WVU until Baylor turned that into nothing more than illusion.
“We didn’t do anything we set out to do,” Patterson said. “We didn’t stop the run. We couldn’t stop the vertical shot. We got whipped everywhere. We tried every coverage, every set. We tried moving our anchor points; we tried zone pressure. But you’ve got to give Baylor credit — they physically whipped us. It seemed like absolutely nothing worked.”
That nothing worked can be accepted ... no one said this was a terribly skilled WVU team.
Being physically whipped, that speaks volumes about where the program is and the direction it is taking.
And believe it, West Virginians don’t like it.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.