By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
You cannot argue with reality, and reality says that West Virginia is a 4-6 football team, a team that needs to close the year with two straight victories to reach .500 and qualify for a bowl.
Reality says West Virginia is not very good.
Yet, what? Is it possible that reality isn’t as real as it seems?
See, West Virginia may be closer to being a winning team than anyone imagines.
At least, that’s the way Coach Dana Holgorsen sees it.
“I think we’re close. I think we’ve been close all year. We’re playing quality teams. We’re getting better. We’re playing a lot of young guys. I don’t know. I think we’re close. I’m hoping it happens this year,” he said.
This year? Is not this year gone? Is not a 4-6 record a lost season?
“Our goal is to go win this one,” Holgorsen said, referring to Saturday’s game at Kansas. “Take a week off after that, get refreshed and go win another one, take a few weeks off, get refreshed and then go win a bowl game.”
Do that and you finish 7-6 with a three-game winning streak coming after having led in the second half against Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Close? Yes, that’s close, but it isn’t over the hump, maybe because they don’t yet have the power player at quarterback they need, maybe because they have been too inexperienced, relying too heavily on junior college players, transfers and freshmen.
Seeing at this level of college football, the difference between winning and losing isn’t always what it seems to be.
“The margin of error is very slim,” Holgorsen said. “When you play good football teams, you have to perform at a high level every week. If you don’t, you will get beat.”
And that’s just what’s happened with the Mountaineers, perhaps most obviously against Texas when they couldn’t put away a game they were a first down from winning.
“Who do you blame it on? I don’t know. I can give you a lot of excuses. The only one I am really going to give you is to put it on me,” Holgorsen said. “If I had the answer, I would have put it in place a long time ago.”
The one place Holgorsen won’t point a finger is at his players. That is not to say he believes they have played well or come up with plays at critical moments to keep disaster from striking.
It hasn’t been that, but they have given everything they possess.
“The one thing I’m thankful for is the players are attentive. They’re playing hard — I think you can all see that and appreciate that,” Holgorsen said. “They are getting out there and playing hard and it means something to them. I’ve never been part of a locker room that disappointed, which means they care and they’re trying.”
As long as that is going on, Holgorsen can live with it.
“I can sleep at night because of that,” he said. “It didn’t make that loss (to Texas) any easier. They’re trying hard. The coaches are trying hard. We remain united. We have a plan and we’re building something bigger than just lining up a team to beat Texas.”
But sooner or later, results have to come forth.
OK, you are in a down year, a season after you have graduated Geno Smith and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey left a year early.
No one expected greatness after that, but they weren’t looking at .500 or below, either.
Holgorsen maintains he’s had improvement, that many of his young players like Tyler Anderson and Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts have come on.
In the end, though, with the offense WVU plays, it comes to rest at the quarterback position, and if the quarterback can’t complete better than 60 percent of the passes, if he can’t turn third downs into first downs, if he can’t control the tempo of the game, winning becomes far more difficult than it should be.
In this case, Clint Trickett did not get to practice with the team until August, didn’t become a starting quarterback until the fifth game, and there just hasn’t been a chance to put things together the way they should be, the way they must be if you are to win more than you lose in a major conference like the Big 12.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.