By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Strangely, West Virginia University’s loss to Texas Tech, while overwhelmingly one-sided and thoroughly demoralizing, put an even greater edge on next Saturday’s game when WVU returns home to face unbeaten No. 5 Kansas State.
Had the Mountaineers beaten Texas Tech, as many expected they would do in convincing fashion, it would have set up a battle of unbeatens going after first place in the Big 12 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
That would have made it cosmetically the game of the year, but in reality, if the Mountaineers had held up their end of the deal, while the winner between WVU and K-State would be in the driver’s seat in the conference race, the loser would not have been virtually eliminated.
Now, West Virginia comes into the game in a “must-win” situation. Two losses in the Big 12 appear to be too many if you hope to win the championship, which has been WVU’s stated goal for the entire season.
This is especially true with Oklahoma still to come to town on Nov. 17, the Sooners having fully recovered from their loss to K-State and run off a pair of impressive victories, beating the same Texas Tech squad that dominated WVU, 41-20, in Lubbock, then annihilating a Texas team that gave WVU fits, 63-20, this past weekend in Dallas.
The Mountaineers’ major job this week, even more than finding a fix for a defense that has been like a 60-pound weight around the back of someone trying to swim the English Channel, is to regroup mentally from the Texas Tech loss.
The final score said much of what you have to know about that, 49-14, the defense once again unacceptable as it allowed 508 passing yards and 676 total yards, while the offense managed to play its first ordinary game, going a full 47 minutes without scoring.
Quarterback Geno Smith’s Heisman Trophy bid was sidetracked with an ordinary 275 passing yards that produced only one touchdown.
“There is no explanation for it. Everyone has a bad game,” Smith said in the aftermath of defeat. “I don’t think I played terribly bad. I think I did enough to win the game, and that’s the way I measure myself.”
He spent Sunday evaluating the film of himself and then vowed that everything would be behind him and the rest of the team and that all concentration would shift to Kansas State.
“This will sting,” he said. “But the one thing I do know is we’ll bounce back. We’ll put this game behind us, just like we do a win. We’ll move on and get better each week. We have six games to go.”
Shannon Dawson, who is the offensive coordinator, also said the focus must move forward once Sunday had come and gone.
“Hopefully, we bounce back and play well. I think we will,” he said in the moments after the defeat became final. “We’re not down. In that locker room right now, we’re not down; we’re disappointed. We’re disappointed in our execution and a lot of things.”
Certainly, there was a lot to be disappointed about, but the shining light at the end of the tunnel is that Kansas State is a totally different kind of football team than was Baylor and Texas Tech, who combined to put 112 points and 1,376 yards on the board in two games against WVU.
Coached by 73-year-old Bill Snyder, in his second go-round at the school that he turned into a national power, they play far more old-fashioned football. They run before they throw. They are fundamentally sound, and they live off their defense.
Like WVU, they built their offense around their quarterback, Collin Klein, but unlike Smith, he is an option QB who would just as soon run as throw.
This past week Klein pretty much fought off an upset bid by Iowa State by himself, rushing for 105 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 187 more yards.
Considering that WVU has been far more effective against the run than the pass defensively, it would not be outrageous to see this 114th ranked defense play an improved game.
To do that, there is some healing to be done as Will Clarke, the leader of the defensive line, missed the Texas Tech game and forced a lot of shuffling to be done, while offensively there remain many concerns, one being starting running back Shawne Alston, who has virtually missed the last four games, and Stedman Bailey, who limped off with an ankle injury.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.