It was assumed, just from looking at the on-field play and overall team demeanor, that perhaps a rift was indeed developing among the team. Linebacker Shaq Petteway confirmed as much following the 50-49 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma.
"For a minute, there was a little anger towards each other," Petteway said. "But the last couple weeks we have pulled together because we feel like it's us against everybody and the coaches on our side. It's just us against everybody. We have no choice but to pull together. … The Texas Tech game, we just came out flat. The (team) pulling apart I felt like came the game after Texas Tech."
Meaning Kansas State. Which was, not coincidentally, West Virginia's worst overall performance of the season. Part of that the then-unbeaten Wildcats. But part, Petteway said, was the Mountaineers, both physically and mentally. That has changed, and it does seem all three units are playing and working together, if not performing as well as all would wish.
"I like that we went out there and played with a different mentality," Petteway said. "We went out there and played for each other and there were people out there congratulating each other and picking each other up after they made a bad play. We went out there and played as a team and played with a passion. I feel like we have no choice but to come together."
West Virginia, having lost five games in a row for the first time in 26 years, now gets away from home with a Black Friday contest at Iowa State. The road might be another good opportunity to continue the healing, as the Mountaineers have lost three consecutive home games for the first time since 1990, when they dropped games to Boston College, Penn State and Syracuse to close the home slate.
"The last two games we lost, it has just been a couple plays," cornerback Broderick Jenkins said. "That's something we have to improve upon. If it had been one more play, or two more plays, we would have been happy and not lost five games in a row. Coaches keep emphasizing that it only takes one play. We see that. So we just gotta take it how it is and try to build off it next game and not give up those one or two plays. I feel like we went out there and played our best. We have gotten better, as a defense, game-in and game-out for the last three weeks. So this is another game that we have to look at it like we played our best and we lost to a good team, a good Oklahoma team, top 10 team. We're going to try and get the next two games."
The Mountaineers have now allowed 423 opponent points. That broke the school record of 364 (1978) in just nine games, and Oklahoma did nothing but boost that mark in game 10. But it's interesting to consider how close WVU is to both a horrid and a very encouraging season. Don't finish against Baylor and at Texas, and West Virginia is mired in a 3-7 season gone very wrong. Finish against TCU and Oklahoma, and this is a 7-3 team very much on the way to a porbabale 9-3 finish and the chance at another 10-win season in a solid bowl game. A fine line, all that.
"You look at the last three games, these kids have been through a lot," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "They have worked their tail off. They pulled together and it's hard. It's hard to come back from the losses the last two weeks where we could have won the game. We got to pull together. We have two more games left. We have to win them both and put us in good bowl position."
West Virginia should be favored in its next two games, and has a very winnable finale against Kansas on Senior Night. Grab those two, get the added practices for the bowl game, continue to get better – and come together. This splitting and the re-jelling has the potential to be a positive. It's all in how the players and coaches progress, or don't, from this point. The skid, and what emerges, is likely to be a turning point either way.
"The kids played hard," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "How many more losses like this do we have to go through? I don't know. We've got two more games left. Hopefully, we can get back out there and get to work and try to come up with a couple of wins. We have to regroup."