West Virginia tries to salvage lost season
AMES, Iowa — Five games into the school's longest losing streak since 1986, West Virginia's players and coaches insist they still have plenty to play for.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) will become bowl eligible with a win Friday at Iowa State (6-5, 3-5) or a victory in next week's final home game against Kansas.
According to coach Dana Holgorsen, team motivation isn't a concern.
“I don't see that at this point,” Holgorsen said. “Yes, there is a worry to that, but we are still playing for a lot. We have 22 (seniors) that have (two weeks) left of their college careers unless we win one of the two and extend it to a bowl game.”
Quarterback Geno Smith, WVU's career passing leader, is one of those seniors. He said he isn't ready for his college career to end after next week — nor are his fellow senior teammates.
“We all want to win very badly,” Smith said. “Guys are not going to hang their heads. We understand that we are in a rough stretch, but we know the only way to pull out of it is to win games. We are going to continue to prepare as hard as we can to put ourselves in a situation to win.”
Effort hasn't been the Mountaineers' problem as much as a lack of execution in crunch time.
From a coaching standpoint, Holgorsen feels good about the effort of his players during the losing streak. He's particularly pleased with their desire in close home losses to TCU and Oklahoma.
“I felt like we gave it everything that we've got,” Holgorsen said. “The sideline energy was great, and our kids played hard. The effort was there, and the excitement was there.
“There is a difference in playing well and losing and just flat out being embarrassed. We would have a lot to worry about right now if we weren't playing with effort, if our kids weren't excited to play — and I would be able to sense that — and it would be a serious problem.”
That said, Holgorsen warned against playing with anything less than full effort against an Iowa State team that is bowl eligible for the third time in four years under former Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.
“It will be a challenge if we think we can relax at all,” Holgorsen said. “Oklahoma was a huge challenge, and we gave a tremendous of effort and had a chance to win and we didn't (losing, 50-49). If we don't give that kind of effort, then we won't win the game because Iowa State is going to be a huge challenge.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.