By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It was as if Oliver Luck were clairvoyant.
The West Virginia University athletic director was on his segment of the endless pregame radio show, and he was discussing the Mountaineers’ place in the Big 12.
“There’s no question I think we can be successful,” he said. “I’m convinced we can win and be competitive in this conference, but we’ve got a ways to go still.”
May one suggest, at this point, that it is a long ways to go, having lost 11 of the last 16 games, seven of those losses by 21 or more points.
Luck looked back to two of the Mountaineers’ losses in Big 12 play this year, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
“They were winnable games,” he suggested.
And, indeed they were, losing to the Sooners just 16-7 and blowing an 11-point lead in the second half to Texas Tech.
But, in the end, the result was the same, just as it would be about five hours later when Kansas State walked away with a 35-12 victory in another game that one might brand winnable despite the one-sidedness of the final score.
So why were games that were winnable consistently winding up in the lost column?
“You’ve got to play smart,” Luck said, not in answer to that question but as a statement of fact. “NFL game are often won by great plays. College games are won by mistakes. The stupid things we do have put us in a hole.”
He didn’t mention coaching, didn’t mention players.
That should not be read as an indictment of any single person or segment of the team, but make no doubt it should not be taken by anyone connected with the West Virginia football program as a compliment.
Certainly, the coaches are on the spot, led by the head coach.
A week ago an indefensible decision to go for a fourth-and-14 in the first quarter trailing 10-0 to Texas Tech blew up in Dana Holgorsen’s face, and certainly a fake field goal try in the second quarter on fourth-and-7 at the K-State 9 on Saturday, leading by two points at 9-7, was no different.
Holgorsen maintains the fake was not called from the sideline, but that they had seen something on an earlier field goal that made them think a fake could work and that they told holder Mike Molinari if he saw that look again he had to communicate it.
“We obviously didn’t get through to Mike what we needed to get through to him. It wasn’t the correct look. It wasn’t the correct call,” Holgorsen said.
Work or not work it isn’t the right play when you gamble that a holder can run 5 yards for a first down rather than simply widening the gap beyond a field goal and put yourself in a position where should K-State score a touchdown they would lead only 14-12 … leaving you only a field goal from the lead.
Holgorsen, of course, was asked about it after the game and this was his explanation.
Let’s us be totally fair and honest about this. That play did not cost the football game.
Not with as many passes that were dropped, as many as were overthrown, as many coverages that were blown in the course of this afternoon.
The emphasis of late, as this season has slipped further away, has been on just having some improvement.
Yet, even though the coaches maintain they see some, one suspects they are looking through the world’s most powerful microscope to see it.
This game, in fact, was a replay of last week’s game against Texas Tech when WVU fell apart in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter.
And, to take it back even further, it was a replay of last year’s game against Kansas State, a 55-14 drubbing that came again on the heels of a dismal performance against Texas Tech.
In that game Collin Klein, the K-State quarterback, completed 19 of 23 passes for 334 yards.
This year the combined passing totals of Daniel Sams and Mark Waters were 18 of 21 for 291 yards
That is 37 of 44 passes for 625 yards, seven of the completions for touchdowns.
A year ago Tyler Lockett set a school record nine receptions for 194 yards and two TDs.
Are you looking for improvement? You got it here. Lockett caught only eight passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
The point is, there’s something seriously wrong here, and it’s awfully hard to buy that it’s because WVU is in the Big 12. Remember, this is a school that went into bowl games and beat Georgia, beat Oklahoma, beat Clemson.
You can’t say that the team that beat WVU on Saturday was better than many of the Big East teams that they played over the years … no, once Miami and Virginia Tech left there wasn’t Oklahoma and Texas in the Big East, but there was Kansas State and Kansas and Iowa State and TCU.
Right now you have a team that wouldn’t have been able to have won when the Big East was at its best and that even in a Big East with Louisville and Cincinnati would not have been a championship team.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.