West Virginia's players certainly had to feel like they let an upset chance slip away in Norman, Okla., on Saturday night, but one of the leaders of the WVU defense made sure to take some positives out of the game. Rowell, who can always be counted on to say exactly what's on his mind, shared an upbeat view of West Virginia's effort and what it should take out of the Oklahoma loss.
"I feel like it's the hardest we've played since I've been here," said Rowell. "I feel good about this team. This might be the only loss we take this year. I'm proud of these guys. I told them after the game to hold their head highs. They (Oklahoma) scored one touchdown and three field goals."
Rowell was also quick to note that WVU has to improve on both offense and defense if it wants to rip off a winning streak, but it's clear that the big man isn't going to let some of the issues that affected last year's squad take hold after a shaky start in 2013. He's in the process of delivering a message of unity, encouragement and optimism this week.
"I don't know if everyone is as positive as I am, but we have ten more games to go and I'm trying to win every last one of them," he said with a smile. "I'll be telling them that, and I'm pretty sure that when you talk to them on Tuesday (during interviews) they'll tell you the same thing I am telling you."
Rowell wasn't trying to say he was o.k. with the loss, or that he accepted playing the Sooners close was good enough. He simply wants to make sure his teammates know that they did do some things well, and that if they maintain their level of effort, they can improve and get the wins he wants.
"I just feel like we were the prepared team this week," he said in response to a question about Oklahoma overlooking WVU. "We give credit to Oklahoma, but let's be real. We gave them a run for their money, and that's a great team we lost to."
Rowell certainly did his part, as he dominated OU center Gabe Ikard on many snaps. A pre-season first team Big 12 pick and an Outland Trophy watchlister, Ikard was often stymied and at times driven into the OU backfield by Rowell. Despite missing a couple of chunks of the game due to injury, Rowell kept coming back to anchor the middle of West Virginia's defensive line.
"Every last coach was in my ear all week. He was an Outland trophy finalist and all that, but I just treated him the same as any other player. He puts his pants on the same way I do. I came out with a chip on my shoulder. He's a great player, but I feel like I was the better player tonight."
If Rowell continues to play the way he did against the Sooners, he might also find his way onto some all-league teams this year, provided those voting on such lists actually watch games and don't just cast their ballots based on a list of names they received in preseason. While Rowell would certainly enjoy that notoriety, he's more concerned right now with keeping spirits up and his teammates focused on what they can achieve.
If they can match his performance on the field and attitude off it, West Virginia might be in a position to exceed the expectations that many now have for the season.