LAWRENCE, Kan. — Try as we might to categorize this West Virginia football collective, to judge competency and gauge progress, its identity has juked and jittered from week to week—or in some cases, series to series.
Then came Saturday at KU, where clarity arrived with insulting force.
In a performance flatter than the Osage plains, West Virginia suffered loss No. 7, and despite Dana Holgorsen’s postgame spiel that all losses sting the same, this one undeniably stung worse than any of the previous six.
A 31-19 blistering by Kansas also assured that this season—the one with the “rebuilding” tag applied squarely to the front—is an unmitigated disappointment. Needing only to beat the dregs of the Big 12 to salvage the program’s 11-year bowl streak, WVU mustered neither enough emotion or discipline to warrant a postseason invite. Let some other team practice in a Brooklyn hotel ballroom … this one isn’t deserving.
“Probably the most disappointing game of the year,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, whose unit needed two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes merely to make the outcome respectable. That is, if climbing within 12 points of a team ending a three-year conference drought can be considered respectable.
“We just didn’t play as hard as (Kansas) did.”
By halftime, Kansas had 17 points (eclipsing its per-game average of 15.9) and West Virginia wasn’t keeping pace, carrying the glazed-over look of a team still depleted from the previous week’s loss to Texas.
Big-play target Kevin White—producer of a three-catch, 9-yard receiving day—was his typically candid self, admitting WVU didn’t consider Kansas a serious threat.
“This week was just a little off,” White said. “Big loss when we played Texas—we should have won that game. Then we come in here and like, “Aw, we’re playing Kansas.’”
That overconfidence only ballooned when West Virginia covered 75 yards on its first six plays to move ahead 7-0. West Virginia’s next 12 possessions, however, produced zilch.
“I thought we was going to beat them by a lot,” White said. “Everybody was just calm, like ‘Yeah, we got it. We’re playing Kansas.’ I just think we took them too lightly, myself included. We came out dead—just wasn’t into it. We were just off.”
That off-again, on-again contrariety looms as this team’s beguiling legacy: The only squad to take down preseason favorite Oklahoma State also is the only one to send Kansas students scurrying up the goal posts.
“This team’s good enough to beat anybody at the top (of the Big 12),” Holgorsen said, before tacking on a rather obvious caveat. “And this team’s not good enough to beat anybody at the bottom if we don’t play well.”
From top-to-bottom of the league—what a capricious bunch these Mountaineers became. Today, they’re clearly closer to the bottom. Rock chalk bottom.
Where does that leave Holgorsen, whose second season as head coach was worse than his first, and whose third season was worse than his second?
With WVU’s athletics department expected to dip back into the red next year, he’s too expensive to fire—owed more than $9 million on a contract that stretches through the 2017 season. From a pure performance perspective, Holgorsen deserves another season, though 2014 had better show more player development and fewer noncompetitive outcomes.
The perception WVU was close to being a winner this season is downright dubious: In only one of those seven losses did it have a chance to tie or lead on the final possession. That one was last week’s overtime gut-punch against Texas, a game rich with energy, dash and grit.
All things conspicuously absent against Kansas.