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'This is as low as it gets'

MORGANTOWN - It was hard to argue with Geno Smith late Saturday night.

The West Virginia quarterback had, for the second week in a row, pretty much thrown away - literally - any thoughts of winning the Heisman Trophy. He and his Mountaineer teammates had somehow, some way, completed a rapid transformation from national darling to national punch line.

Kansas State had walked into Mountaineer Field expecting to fight for its life and its No. 4 national ranking. As it turns out, all the Wildcats had to do was show up because there was little to no fight put up by the hosts.

And so there sat Smith after West Virginia's humbling 55-14 loss, one that came on the heels of a 49-14 pasting a week before at Texas Tech.

"This is one of those things were we've reached our low,'' Smith said. "This is as low as it gets.''

Or is it?

No, West Virginia won't lose as badly this week. But that's a guarantee made possible only by the fact that the Mountaineers don't play. They are off this weekend before beginning a season-ending stretch of five games against TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas. There's a good chance that in only one of those games - Kansas at home to end the season - will West Virginia be favored.

But even that's not guaranteed. Who knows how low things could get by then?

Of course, who ever believed they would get this low, this fast? It was just nine days ago that WVU strolled into Lubbock, Texas, as the No. 5 team in the country with the Heisman frontrunner in Smith. Today the Mountaineers find themselves ranked No. 25 and the butt of jokes thanks to a defense that can't stop anyone and an offense that inexplicably can't score on anyone.

"I've never had to deal with adversity of this magnitude,'' said Smith, who threw for just 143 yards against Kansas State and suffered his first two interceptions since Dec. 1 of last season. "I've never lost two games in this manner.

"I have to do a better job of being a leader, stepping up and getting guys to respond. And I'm going to do that. I'm going to dig deep. I have to look myself in the mirror and just figure out ways to get better.''

If only it were that simple.

Yes, Smith's performance the past two weeks has been instrumental in West Virginia's back-to-back, not-even-competitive losses. Through the first five games of the season, he completed 81.4 percent of his passes for an average of 400 yards, with 24 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the past two games, he is completing 58 percent of his passes for an average of 210.5 yards, with two touchdowns and two picks.

In those first five games, he and the offense were the reason it didn't matter that the defense was playing at historically poor levels. He was the Heisman favorite almost because of that. He was so good he could make up for what was happening on the other side of the ball.

But no more. West Virginia's defense is performing even worse as the season goes on. Kansas State had the ball 10 times Saturday night. The Mountaineers forced no turnovers and just one punt - that one after the score had ballooned to 52-7 with a quarter yet to play. On nine of the 10 possessions, the Wildcats scored seven touchdowns - all of them by new Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein, three passing and four running - and two field goals.

That defensive coordinator Joe DeForest called it "embarrassing'' is, of course, not surprising. It has reached a level where not even Smith and the offense can compensate. But the real surprise is that the offense isn't even making things interesting anymore.

Against the Wildcats, WVU also had the ball 10 times. The Mountaineers punted four times, turned it over twice, ran out of downs once and had the ball at the end of both halves. The one possession that resulted in a touchdown (the other score came on Tavon Austin's 100-yard kickoff return) came in the fourth quarter against a K-State defense that had pretty much lost interest. And even then it took West Virginia nine plays - only three of which were completed passes - to go 54 yards and make the score an inconsequential 52-14.

It's not all Smith's fault, of course. The offensive line is providing less protection and opening fewer holes. The receiving corps is in flux with Stedman Bailey at less than full speed and coach Dana Holgorsen plugging freshmen into the rotation. Tailback Shawne Alston still hasn't carried the ball since the second game.

Smith, though, will continue to take it upon himself to correct things and to point the finger of blame at himself.

"I'm not going to sit here and point fingers at anybody else. I'm the leader of this team and I'm the leader of the offense,'' he said. "As an offense we didn't do enough. If [Kansas State] scores points, so what? We have to go out there and match it. We can't worry about the defense. We have to worry about ourselves.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.


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