An 11-year bowl streak was snapped Saturday when West Virginia fell to Kansas 31-19 in Lawrence, putting the Mountaineers’ football program in unfamiliar territory.
WVU is used to sending its seniors out on a high note, giving it one final bowl game to play in while also developing young talent during bowl preparation. This season will conclude abruptly Nov. 30 following a regular season finale against Iowa State.
There were many problems with how this season was handled, but there were a few that made a difference between a losing and winning season.
You can start with the quarterback controversy that lasted entirely too long. Head coach Dana Holgorsen couldn’t decide coming out of training camp all the way back in August who his starter was going to be. In the first six games of the season, Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett each started two games.
Holgorsen then decided to start Trickett in each of the next four games, but during those four games, the third-year head coach had to insert Millard to relieve Trickett of his duties for all but one time.
One could argue Holgorsen should have stuck with one quarterback through the thick and thin. With one quarterback, there would have been development of chemistry between the passer and his receivers.
But for as poorly as the quarterback situation was handled, Holgorsen’s indecisiveness only comes because Millard and Trickett failed to take control of the job.
In seven games each, Millard and Trickett both had similar below-average statistics. Millard completed 55 percent of his passes for 1122 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions, while Trickett completed 52 percent of his throws for 1,249 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. Neither played well enough to be named the starter.
Elsewhere on offense, because of the quarterback problems, there was a game-to-game issue of not giving Charles Sims or Dreamius Smith the football more often. The strength of the offense was rushing the football, and Holgorsen should have adapted to that.
In a winnable game against Oklahoma in Week 2, Sims and Smith combined to carry the ball only 14 times. Against Kansas State, WVU completely abandoned the run where Sims and Smith carried the ball just 15 times combined.
In the two conference games WVU won, Sims and Smith carried the ball much more. In an upset win against Oklahoma State, the two touched the ball 28 times, and in an overtime victory against TCU, they carried the ball a total of 31 times.
On the other side of the football, the defense showed significant improvement early in the season as new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had his unit playing well. The defense limited Oklahoma to 16 points and Oklahoma State, now the No. 13 scoring offense nationally, to just 21 points during the first five weeks.
Then Baylor happened.
It shook every bit of confidence the West Virginia defense gained in the first five weeks. Baylor paraded up and down the field for 73 points and 864 total yards. Really, the Bears could have scored 100 points and put up 1,000 yards, but Art Briles took his foot off the gas.
Anyone involved in that defense rethought what they were doing at that point. From there, WVU reverted to its old ways as it looked like the defense was figuring out how to play in the Big 12 like they had to in the 2012 season.
Late leads were blown against Texas Tech, Kansas State and Texas with Davis Webb, Jake Waters, Daniel Sams and Case McCoy dominating through the air. A defense can only take that so much – it was demoralizing.
Throw in injuries, inexperience or offensive line play and blame it on the Big 12 transition, special teams problems or in-game coaching decisions – there are plenty more problems that factor into a losing season.
It’s just one season. All of this can be forgotten if the program is willing to let it go. Holgorsen will now have all but 12 players from this roster back next season. He had 30 underclassmen this season, which is eighth-most nationally on his two-deep.
It’s time to start regaining that feeling of a program heading in the right direction.
Until 2014 kicks off at the Georgia Dome against Alabama, there will be reassessing, rethinking and figuring out how to put 2013 in the rearview.