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October 31, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Mountaineers clear the slate after 3-5 start

MORGANTOWN — It is a coaching ploy as old as Rockne himself, although it highly doubtful he ever used it considering he lost only 12 games in his career, or two fewer than West Virginia University has lost since Dana Holgorsen took over as head coach less than three years ago.

As it was, though, there was very little else left to try, at least for a Mountaineer defense which had started the season with such promise and has fallen apart so badly in recent weeks as WVU’s record slipped to 3-5, leaving them needing to win three of their final four games to be bowl eligible.

So it was when the defense came to work this week it found its board recording the season high and lows — the singular and plural usage done with a purpose – erased.

The message: They were starting over.

“We are starting over,” Holgorsen said when the blank board was brought up during his Tuesday media briefing. “We have four games left, so it’s a new season. That’s what our message was Sunday, We have to keep fighting and keep battling, stay united, keep practicing and keep improving.”

If only it were so easy to erase such a forgettable past, to wipe out 73 points from Baylor, the second halves against Texas Tech and Kansas State … but life is tougher than that.

Yes, West Virginia has four more games left, and it does no good to think about the failures of the past, for if they have not learned from them by now, they aren’t going to the rest of the way.

Keith Patterson, the defensive coordinator, explained it this way.

“There’s plenty of negative to go around, so we just say, ‘Hey, the bottom line is we’re down to a four-game season. It really doesn’t matter at this point what we’ve done good or bad. So let’s focus on these next four games and try to get better each and every week.’”

Rather than living with failed goals, considering you can’t do a thing about those failed goals. You aren’t going undefeated. You aren’t going to win the Big 12 or go to a BCS bowl game. All that is history and for the historians to worry about.

“This is a fresh start,” Patterson explained. “This is the season, right here. Obviously, try to finish the season with a winning record and as a bowl game champion. There’s still a lot to play for and build upon, not only for the seniors, but for next season.”

“We are trying to move on from the good, the bad and everything from the past,” linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “We are looking to approach it as it is a four-game season now, and put everything on the line. We need to win out in order to give our season a chance.”

It is true that WVU can finish with a winning season by sweeping the final four games, and there is no Baylor, Texas Tech or Oklahoma among them. True, Texas will be a huge test, but it is in Morgantown and WVU does have three victories in four tries here – one part of the season they conveniently won’t erase.

In truth, this Saturday’s 3:30 meeting with TCU may be the key game in the whole year. Shaq Rowell, the loquacious defensive tackle, says the winner will go to a bowl and the loser won’t, TCU being in exactly the same situation as WVU.

If WVU does win it, it changes the entire mood on the season, Texas not being an elimination game but, instead, the game that could propel them to that winning record and bowl game with Kansas and Iowa State sitting behind it.

But it is going to take the entire team, both on the offensive side, where virtually nothing has gone right this season, and the defensive side buying into this new beginning.

“I think it’s one thing we talk about every week,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “We can’t do anything about what’s behind us. What we can do is move forward.”

“You can’t do anything to change the past. We’re 3-5. Could we have done anything to win a few more games? Yeah, we could have won more, but we probably could have lost one more, too,” added offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.

Quarterback Clint Trickett takes it a step beyond.

“We try to treat every week as its own season. We try to put everything we have into each game,” he said.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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