By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Mostly, they said, there was quiet — deadly, spooky quiet — in the West Virginia University locker room after Saturday’s 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU, the loudest quiet you never heard.
Every so often, the players admitted, there would an expletive expressed in a rather disgusted, angry way, but mostly it was as you’d expect it to be from a team that has gone from a potential national champion to what now can only be termed a national “chumpion.”
Losses, they would all admit later, are part of the game. Disappointments are part of the life of anyone who has every snapped on a helmet — even a gray one — or laced on a pair of hockey skates or put on a pair of baseball knickers.
It is as much a part of sport as victory because, as anyone knows, a team that pops the champagne cork does so at the expense of his opponent, and the home run hero celebrates while the pitcher who threw the pitch spends his life in some kind of athletic purgatory.
So it is with a WVU team that has gone from highly ranked to simply rank. A season born in the expectation of a Big 12 championship, maybe a national championship, has become nothing but an October snowstorm in Preston County.
WVU, the football, has suffered its own power outage but instead of being waist deep in snow it finds itself waist deep in disappointment on the inside and, quite honestly, in ridicule from the outside.
Three straight losses — those to Texas Tech and Kansas State thorough whippings, but at least the kind that you can accept — hang around the Mountaineers necks.
The third one, though, coming Saturday in double overtime to a TCU team that was no better than WVU, although no worse, was the kind of loss that would rip your heart out.
“It hurts. I can’t lie,” said quarterback Geno Smith, who has gone from a Heisman Trophy candidate to now looking at hoping to get honorable mention at quarterback in the Big 12.
“It’s a hurtful feeling. Right now we’re in a bad three-game losing streak and we have to find a way to pull of this. We have to keep our heads up and not look into the past, not let it beat us twice, three times, four times,” he continued, adding, “We have to regain the confidence we had earlier.”
In truth Smith is not the most emotional of WVU players. He has a no-nonsense, sensible approach to the game, understands that it has its ups and its down and has been on both sides of it.
In this game, this game they could have won, OK, should have won, Smith tried to remain above the fray, understanding the mechanics of the games people play.
“It’s college football,” he said. It’s college football … at its finest. Those things happen every week to a different team. This Saturday it was us. It’s not really going to get to be an emotional roller coaster to me. I keep it in perspective. It’s a game. I love this game with everything in me. I give it 100 percent, but when I leave that field I keep telling myself, it’s just a football game.”
That will keep him from losing his sanity, perhaps, but it is not the attitude this stunned crowd of 52,322 — a crowd that was as disappointing as it was disappointed — as it left the stadium as silent and as stunned as were the players.
How many times had they won this game, riding the play of an improved defense that almost overcame an offense without teeth and special teams that at times were downright embarrassing save for one Tavon Austin punt return?
There was the touchdown that 74-yard punt return produced that gave the Mountaineers a seven-point lead with 3:19 to play, only to have the Horned Frogs come back on some miracle play that involved a quarterback scrambling, a wide receiver being knocked out of bounds, then left uncovered so he could catch a 94-yard scoring pass with just 1:28 to play.
Then there was Smith hitting Bailey with a 25-yard scoring pass on the first play of the second overtime after both teams had failed to score on their first extra possession, only to have TCU coach Gary Patterson come forth with a reverse pass the Mountaineers had not seen that wound up with receiver Brandon Carter throwing to a wide open Corey Fuller on the Horned Frogs first play to move to within a point.
“It was a trick play,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest would say later. “They tricked us. It’s like magic.”
That hurt, but the Patterson had had enough of this overtime stuff.
He was going to win or lose the game right there, going for two points.
“I’m one of those people who believes you play someone on the road, you have to go take ball games. If you try to just play around, you see what happens, like the punt return,” he said.
So, he let Trevone Boykin throw it on a rollout and Josh Boyce went down to get it at shoetop level, the officials ruling it a catch and the catch surviving a replay look as a stunned silence fell over the stadium.
Now what? The Mountaineers still need a win to become bowl eligible and are looking at Oklahoma State on the road and Oklahoma at home, the Big 12s second and third best teams, in coming weeks before having to go on the road to Iowa State.
They could play that game at 5-5, and if that’s the case, what will be the attitude, the mentality, the confidence and, yes, the lineup that coach Dana Holgorsen puts out on the field?
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.