Second half struggles doom WVU

Things just didn't seem to go West Virginia's way Monday in the Liberty Bowl.

While it's a big worry sometimes that a team won't come to play and will be disinterested to play in a game like that, it didn't look like that was the case for the Mountaineers. Especially early on, WVU looked energetic and like it wanted to be there. There were even plenty of offensive fireworks when it was on offense as the Mountaineers trailed by just a point heading into the locker room for halftime.

But anything that was going well for West Virginia early, turned the other way quickly as the second half got underway - and it ultimately ended up costing the Mountaineers a chance to end the 2014 season on a high note with their eighth victory of the season. Instead, WVU was outscored 17-10 in the final two quarters and proved to be unable to do much of anything, while limping to a 7-6 finish.

West Virginia felt good heading into this game with Skyler Howard leading the way. The sophomore signal caller looked comfortable when thrown into action during the regular season against Kansas State and Iowa State, and when Clint Trickett announced that his playing days were over, the coaching staff liked what they had in Howard against a Texas A&M defense that has had plenty of struggles slowing down quarterbacks at times this season.

Once they got out to a 17-7 lead against the Aggies early on, the offense hit a wall. West Virginia averaged nine yards per play on its first six drives of the game, and then gained a total of 258 yards of offense on its final 54 plays of the game (4.8 yards per play).

The Aggies separated themselves as the superior team in the second half. It started up front, where Texas A&M seemed to hold the edge on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game. A&M got plenty of pressure on Howard, while the Mountaineers just weren't able to consistently get to freshman signal caller Kyle Allen - who finished the game by completing 22 of his 35 passes for 294 yards and four scores. Howard, meanwhile, wasn't able to get much going. After a solid first half, he completed only nine passes on 26 second-half attempts for 151 yards with his only score coming late in the game when it was already out of reach.

And the passing game wasn't the only thing to struggle on the offensive side of the ball for a WVU team that also had a hard time getting its running game established in the final 30 minutes.

The Mountaineers picked up 85 yards on 13 carries on the ground in the second half, and averaged just 4.1 yards per carry when you take away a 35-yard run by Wendell Smallwood on the Mountaineers' scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

While all these struggles were going on offensively, the West Virginia defense - which had been so solid all season - slowly began struggling more and more as it wore down against the Texas A&M offense. And when the Mountaineer offense doesn't play well, it makes it all the more difficult for the defense to keep its level of play where it tends to be most of the time. This is a unit that has been depended on a lot to make big stop after big stop this season, and eventually you run out of gas.

So this bowl loss is definitely a tough one to swallow for West Virginia. But it's not a situation like it had a few years ago in the Pinstripe Bowl in which it looked like the Mountaineers simply didn't want to be there. In this case, Monday's loss just looked like it ran into a team that was better on that day. Texas A&M made the plays and stepped up when it mattered, and West Virginia didn't.

Sometimes the story is just that simple.

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