West Virginia sinks to bottom of Big East
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — West Virginia coach Bill Stewart emphatically stated after West Virginia's 16-13 overtime loss to Connecticut on Friday night that he is not worried about the state of the Mountaineers' program.
"No, I'm just worrying about righting the ship," Stewart said.
That ship seems to be in deeper water than it was two games ago, when WVU was in the top 20 and looked like the best team in the Big East Conference. Now, the Mountaineers (5-3, 1-2) sit with a losing record in the Big East for the first time since 2001 through three games. In that year, the Mountaineers went 3-8 and 1-6 in the Big East, which still featured Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. It was also the last time the Mountaineers did not play in a bowl game.
"(I'm) disappointed for our program," Stewart said. "We had a chance to win it."
WVU lost to UConn (4-4, 1-2), which was last in the Big East heading into the game and was coming off a 26-0 beating by Louisville. It was the first loss to the Huskies in the team's history; The Mountaineers won the previous six meetings.
West Virginia lost to Syracuse a week earlier. It was the program's first loss to the Orange since 2001 and first home loss since 2008.
"Maybe the UConn Huskies rushing the field all around us will linger in their minds so that they won't have those feelings too much longer while they're here at West Virginia," Stewart said.
West Virginia's problems have not been consistent this season, either. Despite a top 10 statistical defense, the offense has struggled to score. The WVU defense hasn't given up more than 21 points this season, and in the team's three losses has given up an average of just 18 points. In those losses, the Mountaineers' offense has averaged 14 points.
On Friday against UConn, the Mountaineers had a season-low 13 points against the Huskies, which came into the game as the 48th-best scoring defense and 55th-best total defense. The Huskies were coming off a performance against Louisville in which its defense had given up 26 points in a loss. It gave up 27 points to a struggling Rutgers offense the week before that.
Yet, West Virginia could only manage 13 points against what was statistically the second-worst defense in the Big East.
"It's something that we can't control. We control the defense. They control the offense," said starting nose tackle Chris Neild. "We've got to react. It's sudden change out there, so we have to be on our toes as a defense. We've got to be ready for anything."
West Virginia has two weeks before it plays Cincinnati at home. The Mountaineers have lost to the Bearcats in two consecutive years.
"Every loss is a loss. ... It's a four-game season, and I want the seniors to go out in a great fashion. We have two weeks to get ready for a tough Cincinnati team coming into Morgantown," Stewart said.
The goal, despite the two league losses, is still to win the Big East. Heading into Saturday, WVU sat in last place in the conference.
"All we wanted to do was lead the league in wins, and we don't have an opportunity to do that right now," said WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "We have a lot of football left. This football team has won the Big East with a 5-2 record in the past, but you need things to go your way. We'll keep the eye on that prize and see if we can't win the rest of them."
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