Homecoming and a headache: Climb to 5-0 reveals more faults


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Reese Donahue took a knee at midfield, his own personal victory formation in breathless staging for a marriage proposal.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson took a swipe at Kansas for an untimed two-pointer at the end of a long-decided game.

Will Grier took a day off from Heisman contention thanks to a trilogy of atrocious throws in the red zone.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen just wanted to take a Tylenol.

“It’s the second week in a row that I’m going home a winner with a headache,” he said.

West Virginia beat Kansas 38-22, a final score worth zero style points and fraught with more red flags than a May Day parade in Moscow. And yet, here stands the only unbeaten team in the Big 12 Conference. It’s hardly coronation time, considering the backloaded nature of the schedule and the inconsistencies of the past two weeks. Still, unbeaten is unbeaten.

“We’re 5-0 with a lot of things to work on. That’s a healthy place to be,” Holgorsen contends.

West Virginia coaches reached the locker room in time to see the Red River Rivalry culminate — that Texas field goal ruining Oklahoma’s comeback. Enjoy the cotton candy tacos, Longhorns, which like that win are meant to be savored.

Not much worth savoring from Saturday in Morgantown. The team favored by 29 points generally kept the conference’s puniest program at arm’s length, but WVU couldn’t fully ice the game until the final 5 minutes. That’s because potential touchdowns kept vanishing when Grier went through a funk of forcing throws.

Receiver David Sills said: “Any turnover that happens in the red zone is pretty frustrating.”

Much less three of them.

These weren’t fluky, tipped passes. These were what-the-hell throws into the teeth of coverage you don’t anticipate from a senior meal-ticket with an elite football IQ. Needing to be disciplined against a Kansas defense that used multiple looks to enhance modest talent, Grier was too greedy and too anxious.

“Will did some uncharacteristic things,” said offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “I thought we pressed a little too much, and were trying to do things out of the scheme and out of the system.

“Will is probably more frustrated than anybody in this building. He knows that he could be playing better and that’s what eats at him.”

Say this for the guy: He wasn’t too frustrated to chase down a cornerback 60 yards in prevention of a pick-six. Time to prepare those “Grier 4 Butkus” signs.

“Will made the biggest tackle of the game,” joked Gibson.

Defensive players lauded Grier’s hustle.

“I loved that from Will Grier,” said linebacker David Long. “It was great form, no horse-collar or anything. I tried to shake his hand but he was a little mad.”

Even the typically-cool Spavital let his exasperation break out, and not just on Grier’s interceptions. When a personnel mistake led to a delay of game penalty, he dropped the Mr. Nice Guy routine.

“I try not to lose my mind on things. I try to be very optimistic, because these kids are smart and they understand when they screw up,” he said. “But that was more of a lack of urgency and a lack of focus.”

Of course, urgency isn’t always necessary to brush off Kansas. And I should note that Grier offset his four turnovers with four touchdowns. And Leddie Brown made beastly runs. And Gibby’s defense sufficiently contained Pooka Williams. And WVU hasn’t allowed this two-week stretch of sometimes-bumbling, sometimes-lethargic performances to snowball into a loss.

“We’ll take our sloppy win and go home 5-0. How about that?” said Holgorsen. There was sarcasm in his voice. There usually is.

His team sits atop the pile in the Big 12. But Holgorsen recognizes, as we all do, that against the upcoming opponents, sloppiness won’t always be tolerable.

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