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October 18, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Tech loss still stings for Smith

MORGANTOWN — Geno Smith says he slept fine on the trip back from Lubbock, Texas, last Saturday night, that is the half hour when he wasn’t looking at film, trying to learn some kind of lesson technically out West Virginia University’s stunning 49-14 loss to Texas Tech, knocking the Mountaineers from the ranks of the unbeaten and the Top 10.

The problem was, he could find no lesson to learn from it, that being because he already had grasped the ultimate lesson that comes from defeat.

“I’ve won a lot of games and lost a lot of games, and the one thing I have noticed is the bitterness of defeat always outweighs the thrill of victory,” he said.

It really could not be put better. You go to any athlete a year after they’ve retired, five years or a lifetime, and it is always the same. You ask them what they remember, and it is always that most difficult, for the losses come unexpectedly.

You prepare for victory, not for defeat, and when it comes it leaves lasting scars, while the victory celebration only lasts until the next game.

That is why WVU now is faced with a huge challenge, that of putting the defeat behind it and powering up for a Kansas State team that has been the class of the Big 12 to date, unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the nation, already with a victory over Oklahoma.

Smith, the acknowledged team leader and among those leading for this year’s Heisman Trophy, believes there might be some good to take out of the bitterness of the defeat, that it might have been a wake-up call for his team.

“I hate to say that,” he said. “We hate to have those circumstances. Every game has its own story. What I noticed on Saturday we got behind and guys started to hang their head a little bit.”

It was part of a general malaise that hit the team, something that coaches fear, fight to avoid but understand that there comes a time in any season where the juices just stop flowing.

“It is a problem, but for every football team that exists out there, it happens at some point, and you have to fix it,” Holgorsen said. “I mean, it could happen in a bowl game. I am talking about 18- to 22-year-old kids here. Who knows what their mindset is. I take full responsibility for it. It is our job as coaches to figure out where we want it to be and change it and fix it. We failed last week.”

There were a lot of comments on attitude during the game, about the lack of fire, even about a number of Mountaineer players, albeit players injured during the game, walking to the locker room before the final gun went off.

It was a scene cheerfully shown by the broadcast crew and commented on as proof of WVU’s lack of commitment in the game.

That is why Smith is hoping that this challenge is a wake-up call for the team.

“There’s a difference, and the difference is a sense of urgency,” Smith said, describing the difference from last week to this. “You hate to lose, but losing does that for you. It always makes you focus in on the little things just that much more because as a competitor you hate to lose.”

The standings in the Big 12, K-State unbeaten and WVU already with one loss, turn this into something more than just an important conference game. It is now a must-win game.

“Every game is a must win for us, especially in college,” Smith said. “We don’t have the luxury of a playoff system (like basketball). If you want to be there at the end of it and you want to win it all, you must win every game. That’s just the nature of it.

“We have lost one. Our goals are still in reach, but this is a must win for us.”

So, if they underestimated Texas Tech, there is no underestimating this Kansas State group.

“They are a tough challenge. They have a tough defense. They play together; they play hard. They’re always attacking and rarely make mistakes, and they all fly to the ball,” said Smith.

That, of course, makes it vital that he rebound from one of his rare off days at Texas Tech.

“There are a number of things I can improve on,” the senior quarterback said. “One is accuracy. I didn’t think I hit my mark as much as I would like to. I was kind of off target on certain throws I normally make.”

He saw it as one of those things, not as a sign that the Texas Tech defense had come up with an answer to the WVU offense or his passing game.

Still, he admits, losing in the fashion in which WVU did was embarrassing.

“Obviously, it’s embarrassing to lose in that manner, but I hate to lose. A one-point loss or a 100-point loss, it’s all in the same column,” he said. “You have to move on from it. I think we have. I know we will bounce back. There’s nothing that needs to be said other than let’s get back to work.”

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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