The Times West Virginian

November 11, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mountaineers keep digging deeper hole

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — If West Virginia is almost heaven, why do we all feel this morning like we’re spending our Saturdays in hell?

Must be a football team gone bad.

You might remember heaven. Undefeated, No. 4 in the country, making fun of the left-behinds in the Big East, talking about running through the Big 12 and laughing all the way to the national championship game is the way it was when the team was 5-0.

That was four losses ago … four losses in a row, the most since 2001. And this isn’t Rutgers waiting to come in to lose, 80-7.

Next week it’s Oklahoma, the most storied program in the Big 12 conference and BCS team.

Heaven, that was before the defense was so completely exposed that it has now given up 373 points, breaking the all-time school record of 364 in 1978 at the depth of the Frank Cignetti era. And there’s three, maybe four, games left in the year.

So it goes with a football team gone bad.

One loss, that was acceptable. Even a second loss was acceptable, seeing as it was Kansas State, the nation’s top team. A third loss, though, at home against a so-so TCU team sent everyone soul searching and also showed cracks in what was supposed to be a tight family type of team.

Before the next game Travares Copeland, a freshman who had started and caught six passes in the previous game, left the team for personal reasons that weren’t revealed but his social media passages gave off hints that it was as much to get away from this as anything.

And then on Saturday, with a crucial game against Oklahoma State, another wide receiver, Ivan McCartney, who had started recently, was left behind and his future as a player for Coach Dana Holgorsen is now in doubt.

Holgorsen wouldn’t even talk about him after Saturday’s devastating 55-34 loss to Oklahoma State.

“Why are you worried about it? I’m worried about the guys who are here. There’s a whole lot more important things to talk about than one person,” Holgorsen snapped when asked about him.

In a way he’s right, for it opened a chance to Ryan Nehlen to not only serve as a team captain for the game, but to catch a touchdown pass, and for another receiver, Connor Arlia, to make the season’s most spectacular catch.

Holgorsen felt he to had find players who wanted to play, felt he was being shortchanged by too many of the players whom he had sent out there and let this season slip away.

“I take full responsibility for what happened offensively the past three weeks. We worked hard over the past week to get back to where we were. I didn’t think our effort was where it needed to be. I felt we weren’t playing with 11 players that it meant a lot to,” Holgorsen said.

“We went out and changed some things. It was good to get some guys like Ryan Nehlen get in there and make some plays because it meant a lot to him and for Connor Arlia to get in there and play to hard because it means a lot to him. If we can get about 70 guys that it means that much to we’ll line up and play better.”

Attitude may be part of the problem, but if it is it must be remembered that attitude flows down from above. The problem, and let’s all try to be honest about it now, is not with the players but in the coaching.

These are not inferior players to those who walk on the field for other teams. They were highly recruited after being high school stars, Division I quality players who through five games showed that they had talent.

Oh, there were problems even at 5-0, especially with the defense, but the tipoff on the coaching failures is that those problems never were fixed.

This is a team that rather than improving throughout the season has deteriorated. Geno Smith has gone from a Heisman Trophy candidate to a quarterback who is on the losing side against a third-string QB in Clint Chelf, a player making his first start.

No, the game isn’t Smith against Chelf and certainly you can’t point the finger at Smith for the loss, but he hasn’t dominated games and the reason is that he can’t overcome the mistakes that are being made around him.

Against Oklahoma State, as Holgorsen noted, the team made “junior high” mistakes on offense, on defense and especially on special teams … mistakes that a coaching staff has to have eliminated from its team by the ninth game rather than having new ones cropping up in each a game.

Fundamentally, this team is broken, to say nothing now of spiritually.

It is an inexperienced group of coaches and, to be honest, what seems to be an inflexible group, one that doesn’t seem to be able to get its message across to the players.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.