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'Maybe we needed this to happen'

MORGANTOWN - There's likely to be a bit of a mix of looking forward and back as West Virginia reconvenes this week to prepare for a Saturday game at Rutgers.

True, Dana Holgorsen preaches always looking ahead and concentrating on the next step in the road. But it might behoove the Mountaineers to also recall the last step, which turned into a huge stumble.

There is, after all, a lesson to be had there.

"You don't want to say it, but maybe we needed this to happen,'' defensive end Julian Miller said. "We can't keep playing the way we've been playing and expect to get through the rest of the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We have to pick everything up. We have to learn from this loss.''

That would, of course, be West Virginia's lopsided 49-23 beat-down at the hands of Syracuse Friday night at the Carrier Dome. The loss effectively took a team that was considered the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East title and threw it back onto the pile with everyone else.

If winning the Big East wasn't a dog fight before, it certainly is now.

Consider that Cincinnati is the only unbeaten team in league play at just 2-0. South Florida is winless at 0-3. And everyone else - six teams - has won loss and is now more than a game away from the top spot.

The most aggravating thing for West Virginia seems to be giving up its ability to control its own destiny. Yes, the Mountaineers pretty much still do. They have a game at Cincinnati next month and with most of the remaining teams that are in the logjam. The truth is if they win out there aren't many bad scenarios except for a two-way tie with Syracuse, which WVU would lose.

But the thought of that one eats at the Mountaineers, who went through the same thing a year ago after losing back-to-back games to Syracuse and Connecticut.

"That's a huge thing. That's the thing we try to get across to the younger guys,'' senior linebacker Najee Goode said. "They don't realize what it's like to have your future in somebody else's hands. As a man, as a person, as a football player you want to control your own destiny.''

Well, with that out the window the only thing to do is get better and learn from the smack down at Syracuse. It begins with a Saturday game at Rutgers (5-2, 2-1 Big East), which stumbled itself Friday night losing at Louisville.

"Everyone should be motivated,'' quarterback Geno Smith said. "We took a big loss and we can't come out next week and show the same kind of effort or we'll take another.''

The clock hadn't even run out on West Virginia's loss at Syracuse Friday night when Smith had his entire offense huddled around and giving them an earful.

"I just didn't want them to hang their heads and let this define our season,'' Smith said. "We're better than what we showed and we're going to fight back. We're going to come back from this and it's going to be a stepping stone for us.''

Smith shrugged off the notion that perhaps West Virginia needed a loss like the one on Friday night. Yes, it sent the Mountaineers tumbling in the national polls - they are No. 25 this week in the media poll and No. 24 in the coaches' rankings - and hopefully served as a wake-up call, but Smith maintains a good team shouldn't need any such motivation.

"I don't think it was good for us because I think we're already mature enough to know we have to come out and play every week,'' Smith said. "This is a conference where everybody is pretty much in the same area. That's the way it was last year with the three-way tie [for first place]. But I think we know that.''

So on the Mountaineers go, treading into a remaining schedule that includes Rutgers this week and then Louisville the next before a visit to now-ranked Cincinnati (No. 24) on Nov. 12. All along the way West Virginia has to get better, and the Mountaineers seem to know it.

"Next week we've got to get a whole lot better,'' Goode said. "We've got to get a whole lot better before we play Rutgers.

"If you want to be a championship team, you can't go back. We've already played the worst game we can play. We've got nowhere else to go but up.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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