Mountaineers' bowl hopes in jeopardy
MORGANTOWN - The way Dana Holgorsen figures, it's not time to worry about trying any hard sells or gimmicks to motivate his West Virginia football team.
At least it's not that time yet.
It could come pretty soon, however. The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) play equally disappointing Kansas State (2-4, 0-3) Saturday afternoon on the road in Manhattan, Kan., and the longer WVU goes without a win the more critical things become.
West Virginia needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. There are just five games remaining. The math isn't that difficult.
"We're focused on Kansas State right now,'' Holgorsen said. "A bowl game is important, but a fourth win is more important. We've not gotten to the point where we need to talk about the motivation to win. I think the motivation to win is there.''
What isn't there, even as the two-thirds point of the season approaches, is efficiency and execution.
"If you're not able to execute things, then you can't win,'' Holgorsen said. "We're continuing to focus on being able to execute better.
"Offensively, I think we began to execute better last week [in a 37-27 loss to Texas Tech], but I was extremely disappointed in how we finished the game, especially offensively. Prior to that we were moving the ball better and the flow that had not existed in most of the previous games [was there]. So offensively, we have to continue to improve.''
Indeed, rather than rah-rah speeches or any kind of motivational tools, what West Virginia needs to do in order to win games is simply become a better football team. Until - or perhaps unless - that happens, what good is motivation?
"We've shown we can play at a high level and we've shown we can play at a very low level,'' Holgorsen said. "We need consistency on defense and we need to continue to improve offensively and get into a rhythm and glue it together with special teams. We need them to do what we're asking them to do, which will lead to a victory.
"Obviously making it to a bowl game is one of our goals that we have set as a program. And we obviously want to meet that goal.''
In some ways, however, there has to be some motivation. West Virginia has lost two in a row and three of four. Over the last 15 games stretching back to last season, the Mountaineers are just 5-10.
There has to be motivation just to avoid becoming negative and getting further into a rut.
In that regard, it doesn't appear that the Mountaineers have come to the point where they are just going through the motions in a lost season.
"I think practice has been good,'' defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "Sure, it was a tough loss, but that's the nature of college football. You have to hit that restart button, and it's our job as coaches to motivate and inspire them.''
In at least one regard, West Virginia's schedule should help. The four Big 12 teams the Mountaineers have played so far have lost a combined two games this season. The remaining five have lost 19.
On the other hand, though, the next two games are on the road, where WVU hasn't won in 11 months. After that comes a home game against resurgent Texas.
"We have to stay positive, look forward and realize that this season is not over yet,'' said linebacker Isaiah Bruce. "Every year it seems like Big 12 teams are always taking out each other. We just have to push through it and get better.''
It starts Saturday with Kansas State. The Wildcats are winless in the conference but have played three teams with a combined one league loss. They are coming off a bye week and most recently held Baylor to half as many points as anyone else has this season.
"We just want to take it game by game,'' said running back Dreamius Smith, who will be playing near his hometown of Wichita this weekend. "We're kind of in a bind, but we won't look that far ahead. We're just going to take each game one at a time and keep working hard in practice and keep getting better.''