By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A must-win game Saturday turned into just another loss for West Virginia University, whose season now is teetering upon total collapse.
The struggling Mountaineers went into the rolling farm lands of central Kansas riding a two-game losing streak and looking at the very real possibility that they may spend the bowl season at home wondering what had happened to their once-proud football program.
They came out with that two-game losing streak having grown to three games, thanks a rather dreadful performance in a 35-12 loss to Kansas State (3-4, 1-3), facing the situation where to salvage a .500 season and reach a bowl game they must win three of their final four regular-season games.
This was a performance that mirrored their previous loss to Texas Tech, leading at halftime only to have the second half turn into a one-way street to nowhere. Held to just a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter and overwhelmed in a 21-0 fourth quarter, every wart the Mountaineers have was visible.
“We executed in the first half. We didn’t execute in the second half. Why? I don’t know,” a befuddled coach Dana Holgorsen said.
You can see it in his face, hear it in his voice, sense it just by his presence. It is getting to him.
“It keeps me up at night,” he admitted. “We’re not playing winning offensive football.”
It isn’t one thing.
It is everything.
And it just keeps happening.
“We aren’t doing a very good job offensively. We’re not scoring. We’re not finishing drives. We’re not finishing blocks, We’re not making people miss in the open field. We’re not catching the ball when we’re open,” he said.
“Are we improving? Does it look better at times? Yes,” he continued. “Is it good enough to win a Big 12 football game? Absolutely not.”
The first half, at least, saw West Virginia play defense, enough so that they could go into the locker room leading, 9-7, that despite a blocked extra point and failed fake field goal that Holgorsen said came through miscommunication with holder Mike Molinari.
The second half, though, was a replay of the Texas Tech meltdown of a week earlier, where the Mountaineers had no offense and had no defensive answers for a pair of quarterbacks in Daniel Sams and Jake Waters who seemingly had personality transplants going into the game.
Sams was known as the running quarterback in coach Bill Snyder’s two-QB system. Instead he completed 8 of 8 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown while gaining only 16 yards on 14 carries while Waters rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries while completing 10 of 13 passes for 198 yards and 3 TDs.
As it was a year ago, Tyler Lockett tormented the WVU secondary with eight receptions for 111 yards and 3 TDs after last year catching nine for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
With Curry Sexton catching 112 yards in passes and Tremaine Thompson adding a fourth TD reception, K-State put matters to rest rather easily once they figured out that they could beat the WVU secondary deep.
But it was the West Virginia offense, which is supposed to be Holgorsen’s specialty, that continues to run like a three-legged horse in the Kentucky Derby.
“The middle of the field was left open and we never took advantage of it,” said Shannon Dawson, WVU’s offensive coordinator.
Indeed, if Clint Trickett wasn’t overthrowing or underthrowing, receivers were dropping passes, save for little Jordan Thompson, who made a pair of courageous first-down catches in the middle of the field knowing he would take punishing hits.
“We had what we wanted,” Dawson said. “We just couldn’t take advantage of it. We have to make the routine plays. It’s as simple as that.”
Trickett played about as well as he can. He is not Geno Smith, doesn’t pretend to be, and gets by on courage and desire, but he needs some help and he’s not getting it.
He wound up completing 15 of 28 passes for 227 yards but easily could have hit 20 or more completions if he hadn’t made some errant throws and receivers hadn’t dropped catchable balls.
As it was, he was relieved by Paul Millard, which is sure to inspire another quarterback controversy, but Millard was just 4-for-13, throwing under tremendous pressure.
“We were just looking for a spark,” Dawson said.
By then it was too late for anything to help.
NOTES: Senior linebacker Doug Rigg missed the game with his second concussion of the season. … Senior center Pat Eger suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return. … Cornerback Daryl Worley didn’t dress for the game with an injury. … Freshman nose guard Darrien Howard saw his first action of the year, resting Shaq Rowell. … WVU is now 0-4 on the road this season. … Punter Nick O’Toole punted as if there was something wrong with him, averaging just 32 yards a punt after averaging 44.6 yards through the first seven games. … Prior to the opening kickoff the students at K-State run a skit where one of them dresses as a visitor but this skit backfired as he banged his head accidentally on the turf and was removed by ambulance. … Holgorsen decided to get Sims into the kick return game but it didn’t make much of a difference.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel