The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 29, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU doesn’t show up for bowl game

ORLANDO, Fla. — It has been an hour now, which is hardly enough time to absorb what was just witnessed.

Certainly it was an execution, but we’re not sure of whom.

It could not be of Bill Stewart, the West Virginia head coach, for he already has been fried by his boss Oliver Luck. And it wasn’t of Jeff Mullen or his offense, because he, too, was simply a member of the walking dead that took the field wearing West Virginia uniforms in something called the Champs Sports bowl, not that the company who sponsors it really wants to lay claim to what transpired.

In so many ways this 23-7 loss to North Carolina State, a nice little team not to be confused with a very good one, was the only fitting end this season could produce, for the Mountaineers never found a way all season to reach the level of proficiency that they seemed capable of reaching.

That they scored seven points in the finale should hardly be a surprise to anyone, for they had not one offensive player on the All-Big East offensive team. True, they had a sprinkling of big names such as Noel Devine and Jock Sanders, but Mullen never could seem to get a grasp on how to draw anything special out of them.

And, when they were bad, they were really bad, as they were in the second half of this one.

Five times in that half they turned the ball over, four times via fumble. It was the Connecticut and Syracuse nightmares all over again.

Two of the fumbles came from Devine and Sanders, or as Coach Bill Stewart referred ot it as “our two best players, 7 and 9.”

Both were killers, Devine fumbling on his last carry as a Mountaineer in a senior season gone sour.

Injuries had slowed him, but there was something else, too, lacking, right to the end, right to the moment he broke loose on that 28-yard run, a run that in an earlier year might have turned into a touchdown not a fumble.

But he was cornered on the sideline and caught and coughed the football up when hit from behind.

And then there was Sanders fumble, the normally sure-handed punt returner muffing a fair catch on his own 7, leading to the touchdown that not only put the game away for N.C. State but that allowed the Wolfpack to be the first team all season to score more than 21 points on the Mountaineers’ defense.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” Stewart said, perhaps for the 100th time this season.

He might as well have been speaking all those times in an empty room, for no one paid a bit of attention.

But why should anyone have expected anything more out of a Mountaineer team that had already been told it wasn’t very good by an athletic director named Oliver Luck who fired Stewart but apparently wasn’t willing to pay the price, allowing him to hang around for another year as coach.

Instead,  he sent the line coach and the offensive coordinator packing, a totally understandable and responsible move, but one that had to undermine any chance this team had to win this particular football game.

How many distractions can one football team endure? The players and the coaches maintained that they hadn’t been affected by it.

“I think everyone handled it good,” said offensive tackle Don Barclay. “I think the coaches that are leaving handled it well. It just came down to us.”

But it wasn’t just the coaching changes. There was an injury to Brandon Hogan, their best cornerback, and three players who didn’t care enough about their teammates to make grades.

Distractions? For goodness sake, in the middle of the game ESPN came on with a report saying that Geno Smith, the quarterback, was going to have foot surgery after the season.

Smith denied the report … sort of.

“I’m not hurt and we haven’t discussed any surgery right now,” he said. “I’m not sure how that was reported, but it’s something we keep between us and our program and we’ll let you guys know when the time is right.”

If he does need surgery on his foot, maybe he ought to think twice about it, considering he led the Mountaineers in rushing with 59 yards.

Rest assured something was goofy, which is fitting here about five miles from Disney World, for after the game Shawn Alston admitted to getting on Facebook at halftime, posting that “Coaches are making adjustments.”

If that is going on, can a team really have its mind on a game and its heart in it?

Maybe they wouldn’t have had to make those adjustments had they done them in the extra practice or two they decided weren’t necessary.

True, it’s only been an hour, but the more this defeat sinks in, the more it becomes obvious that this team was prepared for only one thing entering this game and that was defeat.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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