In West Virginia’s game against the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday, history was made. When the Jayhawks beat the Mountaineers 31-19, WVU became the first current Big 12 Conference member to lose to KU since 2009 when then-No. 16 Kansas defeated Iowa State. Kansas defeated Colorado in 2010, but the Buffaloes have since joined the Pac-12 conference.
It’s a streak that has become well-known within the conference. Kansas, a school known for its basketball excellence rather than its football program, seemed to be a guaranteed victory for any Big 12 team.
Not for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia officially hit rock bottom against Kansas, and as a result, the Mountaineers won’t make a bowl game for the first time since 2001. The best head coach Dana Holgorsen’s squad could finish is 5-7 with a win over Iowa State Nov. 30.
WVU simply couldn’t get anything going offensively, and the Mountaineers couldn’t stop Jayhawks’ senior running back James Sims. The elusive running back became the first Kansas player to rush for over 200 yards (211 total) since Tony Pierson against Texas Tech in the 2012 season.
In front of 30,089 fans at Memorial Stadium, Kansas made history and got the pressure off its back in an emphatic way. The Jayhawks only led once at halftime this whole season, and they hung on to a 17-7 lead at halftime against West Virginia.
Junior quarterback Paul Millard threw two interceptions and struggled to find receivers all afternoon.
One game took all the life out of West Virginia and its ailing football program. Since its win over then-No. 11 Texas in the 2012 season, the Mountaineers are just 6-13.
“This (Big 12) is different than the Big East,” Holgorsen said. “You can’t show up and be average and win. I don’t care who it is. We didn’t play with very much energy. I guess this would be an all-time low. Not to take anything away from Kansas – they’ve been close. They sensed the victory, and they whipped us. I was planning on going to a bowl game.
“This program is not equipped to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12. Right now, we’re not where we need to be. Everything falls on me. You can’t just sit there and snap your fingers and fix it. You have to build your program.”
Holgorsen said the loss to Kansas doesn’t sting just because Kansas snapped its streak against the Mountaineers. The third-year head coach said the team will get back to work quicker with the extra time off due to not playing in a bowl game.
“We’ll get back to work in January,” he said. “We’ll be working before our kids report in the offseason. We’ll probably pay a little bit more attention to recruiting in January. There are guys out there that are not ready to play at this level. When you’re replacing starters with true freshmen, it’s not where you want to be.”
As Holgorsen and players mentioned time and time again, Kansas simply out-played, out-executed and out-coached West Virginia in Saturday’s loss.
“It stings pretty bad. Kansas just wanted it more than we did. They were tired of having that three-year losing streak in the Big 12. We knew what we were getting into. You just have to move on with your life. We still have one more game left, and I’m going to give it my all in two weeks,” said senior defensive lineman Shaq Rowell.
“James Sims was phenomenal. He read those great blocks his offensive linemen were giving him. I’m not going to sit here and dwell over (the loss). Those guys came out and wanted it more. As a team, we didn’t do what we had to do to beat Kansas. I feel like (Sims) was tired of losing. He ran like a possessed man.”
For the seniors on the roster, the loss to KU crushed their dreams of ending the season with a bowl game.
Redshirt senior Pat Eger said nobody besides those involved in the program know how much this loss hurts, especially for the guys playing their last road game in their collegiate careers.
“It just sucks,” he said. “There’s no way anyone can understand besides the people in this locker room. It sucks to go out this way. You have to play for a win. All the blood, sweat, tears that we’ve been through.
We’re going to give everything we can (in the Iowa State game). We have to move on from this and get better, and that’s all we can do at this point.”
With the possibility of making a bowl game now out of the picture, West Virginia will have a bye week before wrapping up its season against a struggling Iowa State team that has won just one game this season Nov. 30 at Milan Puskar Stadium.