By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Figuring out a way to beat No. 4 Kansas State when it comes into Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday would be a large enough challenge for West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen had his team won at Texas Tech last week.
But coming off a devastating 49-14 loss to the Red Raiders, knocking the Mountaineers from the ranks of the undefeated and out of the nation’s Top 10, presented him with another, maybe even more pressing problem.
“We need to change the mindset of our football team right now,” the second-year coach said in his weekly media gathering. “I think we are a good football team. We haven’t had to deal with this in a long time. It’s been a year, and we’ve won a lot of games.
“Our job as coaches is to get back to what made us win all those games. That’s working hard, playing with a tremendous amount of effort and being disciplined, being smart, playing fast and playing physical.”
Virtually none of that was evident in the Texas Tech game, and Holgorsen was willing to accept the blame for not having his team on edge and ready to play as the Mountaineers had been the week before when they went into Texas and beat the Longhorns in WVU’s first Big 12 road game.
Asked to assess what happened from one week when the Mountaineers were at the top of their game to the next when they could not find any inspiration, Holgorsen answered:
“I have a lot of guys who wanted it to be easy. We had just gone through two close games in Baylor and Texas and won a couple of shootouts. We had a whole bunch of people going out there that wanted it to be easy.”
Obviously, it wasn’t. The defense was bullied all day, again falling short of any acceptable standards as they now have given up 147 points in three Big 12 games. The offense struggled with protection. Quarterback Geno Smith struggled with accuracy, and receivers had problems getting loose in the Red Raiders’ zone.
“We lost a whole lot of stuff technique-wise on both sides of the ball last week because our mindset was all screwed up,” Holgorsen said. “We lost sight of what’s important, which is understanding what your assignment is, what to do and doing it without hesitation when it comes to triggering it.”
Not that it should have been surprising. This game had the makings of a trap game all along, a second straight road trip in between games against two highly ranked conference opponents, the kind of game a team can overlook … and the Mountaineers did.
“It’s a problem, but for every football team that exists out there it happens at some point, and you have to fix it,” Holgorsen said. “It could happen in a bowl game. You’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-old kids, and who knows what their mindset is. It’s the responsibility of the coaches — and I take full responsibility for it — to figure out if their mindset is not where it’s supposed to be and fix it.”
He then added one final assessment.
“We failed last week.”
He has had some time to spend with his players since that long, silent plane ride home from Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
“Guys were embarrassed, hurt, they were disappointed. I mean, it’s no fun for anybody,” Holgorsen said.
He met with his team on Sunday and put them through a practice.
“We got in here and had a team meeting,” he said. “I didn’t sugarcoat anything. It wasn’t like I got in here and said, ‘It’s all right, guys. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s not what we did. Our job is to coach them and tell them what reality is.
“I told them what reality is before going out there, but we didn’t reach them. Again, that’s my fault for not reaching them.”
Holgorsen laid it on the line for his team.
“We were honest with them. There wasn’t a whole lot of positive stuff being said,” he explained.
“With that being said, the sense of urgency in meetings, the attention in meetings, the flying around in practice on Sunday night showed it was important to them.”
That was the only good sign in a week.
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The Mountaineer injury situation isn’t good. Cornerback Brodrick Jenkins is out for Saturday; linebacker Isaiah Bruce has hip-pointer; defensive end Will Clarke, who missed Texas Tech, is out with a leg injury; guard Jeff Braun had an ankle; running back Shawne Alston remains day-to-day; receiver Stedman Bailey is trying to come back from an ankle injury.
Freshman Travares Copeland, who caught his first pass Saturday as his redshirt was broken, will start this week if he practices well, but Holgorsen could not say at which receiver position.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Him on Twitter@bhertzel.