Does this team have the mental fortitude to close? Can the coaching staff gain enough time management and in-game strategy to get to a bowl? What, exactly, does happen when West Virginia hits these excruciating offensive lulls, such as the five consecutive three-and-outs to finish the game? There are emotional factors, fatigue factors, and, apparently, the "lack of the will to win," but not a lack of effort, which would appear to be quite similar ideals.
Receivers are making solid plays, then later giving up on routes and some passes. There are still miscommunications and misunderstandings on offense. Quarterback Clint Trickett, who is now the starter moving forward, still misfires with some alarming regularity. He has the ability and intelligence to run the system, but still hasn't truly developed the way head coach Dana Holgorsen anticipated. The run game gets going, then stagnates to the point where the team cannot even gain a first down in crunch time.There are positives to be taken from this game. West Virginia, despite all its issues, was leading against a solid team going into the final quarter. But the frustration level, palpably emanating from Holgorsen as he left the field, is likely a bit higher than it was even after the Baylor game.
BU was a blowout. It was never close, and the Bears proved themselves the better team. In this game, WVU had a lot of advantages entering, with location and an off week to refresh and prepare. Even the weather, the time zone and perhaps the kick time benefitted the Mountaineers. And, as they had in some past games, the team was able to hide some issues and piece together solid drives. Its run game was shredding the Red Raiders. Trickett was hitting just enough vertically that Tech backed off its safeties to protect against the deep ball. And then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone. WVU, literally, went from driving 99 yards for a touchdown to being unable to gain 30 feet on three plays over the final five times it had the ball.
"It was challenging for them for two and a half quarters, and they had enough fight and will to make enough plays to win the game in the end," Holgorsen said. "We did not have that. We felt good mid-third quarter when we were up 27-13, but the game wasn't over. We refused to make a play on offense, defense or special teams in the last quarter-and-a-half. We refused to coach well enough to win the game. That will be addressed."
But Holgorsen's defense actually did make enough plays. It gave the offense the football at the 25-yard line with 6:24 remaining and two timeouts. That was the stop the Mountaineers needed. But nothing materialized out of the possession, West Virginia once again limping off after managing six yards in three plays. WVU punted to Texas Tech, which drove 69 yards in 10 plays for the 37-27 final margin. The run game didn't flow, the offensive line protection went south and the wideouts weren't making plays on the ball. It seems, much like the Mountaineer basketball team last season, that the problems, and thus the solutions, are all in flux. One thing is fixed and another issue arises. It's a lot of moving pieces with which to contend, and it creates these scoreless periods of play.
"The played harder and called better plays," Holgorsen said. "We called the same plays we did in the last quarter and a half that we did in the first two and a half quarters. The first quarter was bad and the fourth quarter was awful."
And, in between, Holgorsen said, was something resembling offensive football. "That is what it needs to look like," he said of the period in which WVU scored five times to Texas Tech's once for a 27-16 lead. "We got better offensively, but it was in spurts. When you end the game with five three-and-outs, I think everyone can agree that it was as bad as you an get offensively at the most crucial time in the game. … Our tempo was the best it has been all year. We started to get into a rhythm. We had a lot of plays and the tempo was good all the way through the mid-third quarter."
To his credit, Holgorsen, in his postgame comments, admitted he should have taken the field goal and not attempted to convert a fourth and 14 with Texas Tech leading 10-0 late in the first quarter. Holgorsen's reasoning was that he believed touchdowns would be paramount in the game. But one has to wonder if his discouragement and disgust over WVU's pair of penalties on the drive – the Mountaineers were flagged for a personal foul and a hold which setup second and 20 an third and 30 situations – overcame rational thought. Trickett launched a prayer into the end zone that fell incomplete. Tech responded with a nine-play, 55-yard drive culminated by a field goal for a 13-0 lead.
With all the other issues, the problems, the ups and downs, the coaching staff cannot make that call in that situation. West Virginia has enough trouble overcoming the foe and its own self without adding additional burdens. The Mountaineers continued to chase those lost points late when they trailed 30-27, and while its often not tangible to directly correlate an early in-game decision with latter consequences, one wonders how those three points would have changed both the complexion and West Virginia's confidence, which was among the areas that collapsed.
It reads here there are answers, but they are largely unknown. All the intangibles are so great that it's difficult to pinpoint an exact fix. This team isn't poor, but it also hasn't shown much more than basic flashes of very solid play. The schedule gets easier from here out, and that will help. But it's not as though there's just one thing keeping the Mountaineers from high-end production. It might be time to consider that perhaps this cannot be totally shored up this season, and that the preseason assumptions that this was a lower-tier bowl team, and not much else, were on target.