By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University is to win tonight at South Florida, and everything points to the Mountaineers doing just that, it will be because they have spent the entire year rehearsing for the moment.
This, you see, is a team that thrives on adversity. It is a group of young men who need to feel a sense of urgency before they can reach the potential they possess.
It was the script that was written for the season and for nearly every game within the season.
“It’s a huge game. We have a chance to have a share of the Big East. We put ourselves in that situation, but we fought back and it is a one-game season now. It’s pretty much win or go home. We will focus like no other and go out and try to get this one,” is the way quarterback Geno Smith put it.
It could not be put any better, especially the part about the team putting themselves in the situation they now face. That realization of that and taking the responsibility for it is what is necessary for them to respond positively, just as they have all year.
Think about it. This is a team that has stared adversity in the eye over and over, in nearly every game.
It is a team that has scored 92 or more points in the second, third and even the fourth quarters, a quarter that virtually wasn’t played in the lightning-delayed, then halted Marshall game.
But in the first quarter it has scored only 68 points, less than a touchdown a game.
The Mountaineers trailed at the end of the first quarter in seven of 11 games and led in only the Bowling Green and Maryland games.
The statistics certainly seem to back up the observation that this is a team that needs to be jolted into reality, but in some ways coach Dana Holgorsen is living in denial about the slow starts.
This was how he responded when asked how important it might be to get off to a fast start at least in this one final regular-season game, a game that carries the team’s legacy, as he put it.
“It’s important to start fast all the time,” he said. “I don’t have a magic formula to sprinkle on our team to be able to go out and start fast. I don’t think we’ve relatively started slow or bad.
“If you look back at Cincinnati, we started pretty fast. Cincinnati started pretty fast, too. At Maryland, we started pretty fast. I don’t think it’s been a consistent problem.”
It hasn’t been a problem because this is a team with a large heart, a team which believed so strongly in itself, even after disastrous, inexplicable losses to Syracuse and Louisville, that it was able to revive itself and win enough games down the stretch to sit where it sits today.
True, it is hardly a good situation, needing to depend on a Cincinnati team that is without its starting quarterback to win, should the Mountaineers top USF.
But it is what it is.
“I wish we could have a few of those games back,” Holgorsen admitted. “We’ve put a couple of good victories behind us and moved forward from them, too. It’s right there for us. This is what it’s about. We have a national TV game, a quality opponent, and if we win the game, we get a share of the Big East Conference championship. That’s where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year, and it’s right there for us.
“Would we have liked to have won a couple more games and have the title with us right now? Yes. Everybody else would like that, too. What it is, is reality and reality, is that we’ve put ourselves in a position that we can win the Big East. We’ll take it,” Holgorsen concluded.
What, though, if WVU wins this game but Cincinnati doesn’t cooperate? What if the Bearcats lay an egg against Connecticut? Is all lost?
Senior defensive tackle Julian Miller says not at all, that the BCS bid, while coveted, would be simply icing on the cake once WVU does all it can do to get there.
“If Cincinnati doesn’t win, it won’t make any difference. We’re still Big East co-champs. That was our goal coming into the season, to win the Big East,” he said.
Somehow, though, we suspect there would a hunger left behind, an empty spot in Miller’s stomach as well as Mountaineer backers everywhere, who would be watching a 7-5 Louisville team play in a BCS bowl while a clearly superior West Virginia team had to settle for an inferior bowl game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.