The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 27, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Mountaineers’ loss hurts for many reasons

MORGANTOWN — The Facebook posting came on the dark side of midnight on a gloomy evening that fit the mood of an entire state.

West Virginia had just lost its first football game of the season, 20-14, at LSU, which was not unexpected, but the way they played and were coached cast a thick cloud that blotted out the full moon that had shined over Tiger Stadium.

It was then that the posting came across. It read:

“Pat White Weird how it hurts more now than it ever did playing… I guess that’s love!!! Let’s gooooo!!!!!!!”

The transition was now complete for Pat White, one of the greatest players ever to play at West Virginia and the man at the helm the day WVU suffered the worst loss in the school’s history, dropping a season-ending game to a four-TD underdog Pitt team that kept the Mountaineers from advancing to the national championship game.

As much as that one hurt White — and we’re sure it will take a lifetime to get over — this post indicated that this one hurt more.

And that is how it is to be a Mountaineer fan, not a player and not a coach.

Yes, there is pain that comes with losing for a player or a coach, deep, throbbing pain.

But the player and the coach, they know that they could have done something about the loss. They know they gave what they had, they respect the team that beat them and if they don’t enjoy the fact that they lost, they at least can come to accept it.

With a fan, a Mountaineer fan, it is different. There is no control over the outcome of the game. You did not let yourself down, your team or the coaches, let you down and that cuts deep, especially considering just how often it happens.

No matter how great the joy of the ride, in the end West Virginia never, ever gets over the hump.

Jerry West got the Mountaineer basketball team to the NCAA finals but could not win it. Fifty years later Bob Huggins beat Kentucky and reached the Final Four but could do no further.

Major Harris led WVU to what was essentially a national championship game against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, but was hurt before the game barely got going and the Mountaineers had no chance. And then, two-plus decades later it was the loss to Pitt.

Now this game in Baton Rouge, another moment when the Mountaineers could have won over the nation, could have rewarded WVU fans with something more than another heartbreak by pulling off the upset.

Certainly, LSU was a beatable team. If they were great on defense and spectacular on special teams, they were strictly Big East-ish in offense. Inept and one-dimensional, LSU had their fans booing them and walking out before the end due to the uninventive and unproductive offense they put on the field.

If ever, West Virginia was going pull one out, this was it, but they gave away 17 points on three consecutive possessions that accounted for a grand total of 16 yards.

Let me recap that … 17 points out of 16 yards of total offense.

No one but West Virginia could do that. A fumble at the 7 became

a touchdown, an interception at the 9 became a field goal and a punt became a 60-yard punt return TD.

They played the final three quarters simply to torture Mountaineer fans.

And torture it was, for WVU seldom ever is out of a game. It has the speed to turn things around in a matter of seconds, but for some reason they opted not to use that speed. Facing a savage pass rush, they early on decided to roll quarterback Geno Smith to one side of the field or the other, actually increasing the effectiveness of a equally as fast LSU defense that only had one half of the field to cover.

Throwing deep has become a lost art, WVU seldom trying it and never hitting it.

All night long, the Mountaineers failed to run a play of any kind that gained 20 yards. That is not the kind of football this West Virginia team is supposed to be.

But then this team seems to believe that throwing the football is better than running it, that its speedballs can only gain yards if they can “get the ball in space”, something that has resulted in just 102 points in four games, 25.5 a game, a touchdown less per game than three teams in its own conference.

The offense is more likely to implode than explode. It has fumbled the ball 10 times and lost seven of them in four games, while also throwing three interceptions.

Three interceptions may not sound like a lot, but this is a team that has not taken many risks throwing the ball, the longest pass gain all year out of playmakers getting the ball in space is just 33 yards.

This you see, is what frustrates fans who care so much, who want to find a winner to take hold of after all those years of being knocked down and around by outsiders. It is, you see, as Pat White has learned so quickly, a matter of love, not hate, that makes them demand so much from their athletic teams.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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