By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s football season has reached the point of no return, and that is not a reference to its special teams play, as it heads into the final two games of the schedule needing to win both or suffer the pain of missing a bowl invitation in its first losing season since 2001.
The Mountaineers close with games against the two bottom feeders of the Big 12, playing a noon game today at Kansas that can be seen on Root Sports, and then after a bye week at home against Iowa State which can be either meaningless or for a chance to play in bowl game.
Oddly, as WVU goes into the game fighting injuries, including almost certainly having to start backup quarterback Paul Millard, while carrying a 4-6 record and without having won two consecutive games this year, perhaps the biggest thing WVU must fight against is overconfidence.
Kansas, you see, is 2-7 and not only winless in Big 12 play this year but carries at 27-game conference losing streak into the matchup.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen is battling to convince his team that it can’t approach this game as a walkover.
“They’ve played six really good teams in a row and have played competitive. We’ve got our hands full,” he said. “We need to move forward. We still are playing for something.”
That something is bowl games.
“It’s at the point, where I’m talking about bowl games,” said Holgorsen, who had held off discussing bowls with his team until now. “We need to win the next two to go to a bowl game. We have around 12 seniors; they deserve that.”
Holgorsen says his team understands just how important it is to win this game and the next to move forward, especially coming off that devastating overtime loss to Texas, the Mountaineers’ second consecutive overtime game.
“The disappointment in our locker room on Saturday was tremendous because our guys care,” Holgorsen said. “They’re in tune to what we’re doing around here. They recognize who we are and where we need to be going from here.”
“I anticipate getting the same work ethic and effort out of the guys this week that we’ve had the past couple weeks. We travel to Lawrence, and we will play a team that is improving.”
Holgorsen certainly has let his team know that it is not in a much different place than Kansas or Iowa State.
“We’ve been in a bad place this year as well. They’re no different than any other team in the Big 12,” he said. “If you look at the games they’ve played, they have been playing with a ton of effort. You can see how close Iowa State was to beating Texas, or how close Kansas was to beating Texas last year. It sounds so silly to say but at 4-6, if we think we have any chance of just showing up and beating anyone in college football, then you have another think coming, especially against two teams in the Big 12 that are looking for a win.”
WVU’s defense is badly beat up, losing two more players this past week for the remainder of the season in safety K.C. Dillon and linebacker Jared Barber, each just peaking.
Backups are being called upon for more than anyone anticipated.
“It comes from preparation from way, way back. We were telling guys who No. 2 and 3s that they had to pay attention and work hard when they took reps because when a situation like this happens they can fill in without a big drop-off,” said senior defensive end Will Clarke.
Offensively, WVU believes things are beginning to take shape and is especially encouraged by scoring 40 points against Texas despite five turnovers and having to go to Millard.
When able to get passes off, Millard completed 16 of 32 for 256 yards to balance off a rushing attack built around Charles Sims. The senior transfer from Houston rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns and could go beyond 1,000 yards for the season with 120 rushing yards.
Holgorsen has been saying there isn’t another back in college football doing all that Sims has done for WVU, which he leads in rushing and receiving.
But what is happening most is that a couple of junior college transfers in Kevin White and Mario Alford are maturing and becoming forces, White leading in receiving yardage and Alford coming off a game in which he displayed his blazing speed on a 72-yard touchdown pass in which he ran away from the Texas defense.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.