By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The challenge facing West Virginia’s football team may seem to be getting easier now that it has played four nationally ranked Big 12 teams — two of them ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings — and now that they seem to have a healthy quarterback upon whom they can lean, but there is another wrinkle being thrown into the mix.
WVU’s next two games are on the road, each against a team with a highly respected coach and each desperate for a victory.
This week the Mountaineers travel to Manhattan, Kan., to take on Kansas State, winless in the conference but coming off a bye week, which gives the cagey veteran coach Bill Snyder a whole lot of time to prepare his team for a WVU team that has its own set of psychological problems coming off a 73-42 whipping by Baylor and then after spitting up an 11-point lead at home and losing to Texas Tech.
And while it has been tough going for Kansas State, the Wildcats are 2-2 at home, the losses to North Dakota State and Baylor, by just 10 points.
Then, on Nov. 2, WVU goes to Fort Worth to face coach Gary Patterson and his TCU team that like WVU is 1-3 in the conference and 3-4 overall. At home, however, the Horned Frogs are unbeaten at 3-0.
Certainly, WVU should benefit from having Clint Trickett back healthy for the second straight week and coming off a much improved performance against Texas Tech.
“I do think he played his best game,” Coach Dana Holgorsen said of Trickett’s performance against Texas Tech. “It was not a winning performance but he’s healthy. He’ll be able to rep (today), Wednesday, Thursday, which is the first time he’s been able to do that in a long time. We’ll give him the majority of the reps and try to get him better.”
Trickett came off an awful performance while injured against Baylor, completing just nine passes, leaving him with a 41.2 completion percentage entering the Texas Tech game. Against the Red Raiders, though, he completed 27 of 43 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown, although everything came apart for him along with everyone else in the fourth quarter.
It was so bad as Texas Tech outgained WVU 164 yards to 29 in the fourth quarter that Holgorsen felt his team had lost its will to win, a statement some players disagreed with.
One of the defensive players said he understood how his coach could say that after such a tough loss, but didn’t agree.
“I feel my players, the guys on my side of the ball, had the will to win. That’s his judgment,” he said.
On Monday, Holgorsen toned down the “will to win” statement slightly.
“I have not questioned anything the players have done from an effort point of view or anything we’re asking them to do on and off the field,” he noted. “It got exposed a little bit in the fourth quarter because it was such a press situation. We obviously wanted to win that game. Heading into it we talked about how it meant a lot to us and we got in the fourth quarter and they made more plays than we did.
“I phrased it as they wanted to win a little bit more than we did, and if you watched the tape they made more plays than we did in the fourth quarter.”
A lot more than just a will to win went into the fourth-quarter shutdown. Part of it, Holgorsen noted, was depth, that his “second and third teams guys are not as good as they need to be to compete against the likes of Baylor and Texas Tech over the last couple of weeks.”
And there also was a matter of confidence, which had to have been shattered at Baylor and had to have a carryover effect of some kind, even with a bye week.
“Confidence is the hardest thing to build, and when you get it shattered by Baylor, who is making a habit of doing it to a lot of people, evidently it’s hard to get it back. That’s what we have to do as coaches,” Holgorsen said.
“Our approach was last week we have to get them away from it and hopefully that would get them excited about it. We did have a very good week of practice. It just didn’t translate in the fourth quarter. We played winning football for three quarters and were in position to win it and in the fourth quarter when the game got tight and continued to get tighter, they were a little more confident than we were based on the fact they had won all six games and we were 3 and 3.”
Still, Holgorsen found a lot of good to take out of the Texas Tech loss.
“We made progress. I think everybody would agree with that,” he said. “You know, Texas Tech is a good defensive football team with seven or eight seniors and a lot of guys coming back. They’re well coached and in position and play hard.
“We made some things happen, moved the ball, got the ball in the end zone several times. Fourth quarter, it was the story of the game. They did a much better job on all three sides of the ball making plays when the game was on the line. You got to give them credit for that.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.