Harris: WVU must regroup, not crumble
Having lost their past two games in embarrassing fashion, the West Virginia Mountaineers are doing their best to take the glow off a 5-0 start.
WVU's critics have the ammunition they need to blow the Mountaineers' bandwagon to bits and dismiss them as national pretenders. Given a chance the past two weeks to compete against Texas Tech and Kansas State, the Mountaineers melted under the pressure.
Based on their reaction, you have to wonder about the mind-set the Mountaineers carried into the Kansas State game. Was it any different from their mind-set the previous week after they promised it wouldn't happen again?
What, if anything, can coach Dana Holgorsen do to turn the season around? Will his players now listen to his message?
Holgorsen, of course, accepts full blame for the Mountaineers' recent slide. His players are a reflection of his coaching. But how much of it is his fault and how much falls on the players?
Right now, WVU's players are dumbfounded.
“I have never dealt with adversity of this magnitude. I have never lost two games in this manner,'' senior quarterback Geno Smith said following WVU's first two losses in the Big 12 Conference by a 104-28 margin.
Holgorsen, a veteran of nine Big 12 seasons before taking over in Morgantown last year, warned his players about the perils of taking conference opponents lightly.
The Mountaineers were so moved by Holgorsen's pregame speech that they suffered a 49-14 loss Oct. 13 at Texas Tech.
Were they even listening?
“When we came into that game, none of us had that mindset. We thought we were going to get the easy win,'' senior wideout Tavon Austin said a few days before facing Kansas State. “Definitely, now we will come in more like we are playing in the national championship.''
Austin and the rest of the Mountaineers talked the talk, but they walked the plank in a 55-14 blowout loss after promising it wouldn't happen again.
Kansas State is a talented college football team — No. 3 in this week's BCS poll. But no way is Kansas State six touchdowns better than the Mountaineers with Smith throwing to all those talented receivers — bad defense, or no bad defense.
“My message to the team was we need to grow up,'' Holgorsen said Monday. “We need to become a mature football team.''
Quite frankly, nothing has been the same since the Texas Tech game two weeks ago, when Smith and Holgorsen publicly disagreed about swirling winds in Lubbock affecting Smith's passing touch and his confidence.
It may have been a matter of semantics between Holgorsen and his star player about the weather knocking Smith off his game. If I'm Smith, I have to be wondering why Holgorsen singled me out while insisting his defense is schematically sound following yet another dreadful performance.
During these tough times, it's important that Smith and Holgorsen are on the same page.
Taking his role as team leader seriously, Smith moved quickly to deny there's a rift between WVU's overachieving offense and its underachieving defense.
“I have to do a better job being a leader, stepping up and getting guys to respond,'' said Smith, who's a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award honoring the nation's top quarterback. “I have to look myself in the mirror and figure out ways to get better.
“There are a number of things that went wrong, but I am not going to point fingers. As an offense, we didn't do enough. It is our job as an offense to score. We can't worry about the defense.''
WVU has a lot more to be concerned with than who's at fault. Pulling apart is not an option.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.