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Doing the expected a sign of progress at West Virginia


LAWRENCE, Kan. — West Virginia, finally handed its turn at the 2015 Kansas piñata, cracked through the Jayhawks in minutes.

To most of the nation, it was nothing more than a lopsided score on the bottom scroll. To Mountaineer Nation, it reinforced plenty about their better-than-average football team.

Whereas an ugly win Saturday would’ve sufficed for bowl-eligibility purposes, the unabated mauling that transpired was indicative of how this West Virginia checks the boxes it’s supposed to check. Unlike recent years, it has avoided head-scratching losses in favor of some steady strong-arming.

Pronounced favorites at home against Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland? Clubbed them all.

Swing games against the mediocre likes of Texas and Texas Tech? Done and done.

Keeping KU lifeless in Lawrence? Not a problem.

Every holdover from 2013 remembered the Mountaineers slogging out of Memorial Stadium as the answer to a Big 12 trivia question. Every newbie felt their shame by proxy. While Dana Holgorsen couldn’t rely on his usual motivational device (though if there was a video of Charlie Weis team-surfing, I’d like to see it), he at least emphasized the similarities this time: Hungry underdog, pesky weather, the most uninspiring environment you’ll ever witness at a Power 5 game.

Instead, the Mountaineers generated their own juice.

“We wanted to prove to Dana and all the coaches that we’re not that team from two years ago,” said running back Wendell Smallwood. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”

Kyle Rose, nose tackle on the 2013 defense that surrendered 31 unanswered points here, fronted a unit Saturday that surrendered one first down on the Jayhawks’ first 11 drives. “I’m really proud of our guys playing like they did,” he said. “We harped all week on creating our own energy.”

Before a few thousand KU fans who cheered the pregame flyover and little else, West Virginia pounced quickly and covered the 28-point spread in a quarter. When the margin ballooned to 42-0 in the second period, Kansas had the same sawed-through look as when Baylor and Oklahoma ransacked the place by a combined 128-14.

Though not to be misidentified among the Big 12’s elite—WVU punctured that dream during October—the Mountaineers continue fronting the conference’s second tier, aligning themselves for a middle-class bowl and enough year-end goodwill to guarantee Holgorsen’s staff some stability.

When the coach referenced “teams that tend to fade a little bit” after being knocked from the conference title chase, you knew he meant previous teams at West Virginia.

This one seems to be breaking the pattern.

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