They'll be home for the holidays
LAWRENCE, Kan. - The loss West Virginia's football team suffered here Saturday afternoon set none of the type of records that so many other Mountaineer losses have over the past two seasons.
The opponent didn't approach 1,000 yards of offense or seem as if it might eclipse 100 points. There was no second-half collapse of the type that led to so much frustration the past month.
Yet this one just might be worse than any of the others, if for no other reason than who it was and what it means.
West Virginia became Kansas' first Big 12 victim in more than three years Saturday. The Mountaineers scored first and then were simply dominated by what has consistently been the worst team in the Big 12 the last five years, losing 31-19 at Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Just as significantly, the loss ends two long West Virginia success streaks. The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) will not have a winning or break-even record and they will not go to a bowl game. In each of the last 11 years WVU has done both.
"I guess,'' coach Dana Holgorsen surmised when asked about the depths of the loss, "this would be an all-time low.''
Almost no one argued with him.
Holgorsen was referring to a personal low. It is the first time in his 14 seasons as a Division I coach that he won't be going to a bowl game. But the loss was also a West Virginia low on so many levels. Perhaps not since losing to Temple a dozen years ago has such an unaccomplished team beaten the Mountaineers.
This is, after all, a Kansas team that had lost 27 straight Big 12 games dating to the 2010 season. The Jayhawks had also lost 37 of their previous 38 league games. They were 2-40 in their last 42 games against schools from automatic-qualifier BCS conferences.
Now they are 3-40.
"They outplayed us. It's that simple,'' center Pat Eger said. "It's the Big 12. It's not the Big East anymore. Hats off to them. But this just sucks.''
West Virginia, which plays Iowa State in two weeks at home to conclude the season, is now assured its first losing season since Rich Rodriguez's first team went 3-8 in 2001. That was also the year the Mountaineers lost a home game to Temple, which seemed to be a low-water mark that might stand forever.
"We just didn't play as hard as they did. That's all it is,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "You can talk about it as long as you want to, but it comes down to effort. We played with great effort last week and were sharp and played with horrible effort this week.''
The Kansas domination was pretty much complete. Again, the numbers weren't overwhelming, but against an injury-ravaged Mountaineer defense, the Jayhawks broke big plays. Tailback James Sims ran for 211 yards as Kansas totaled 315 on the ground. The Jayhawks passed for only 61.
Offensively, West Virginia could do nothing behind quarterback Paul Millard. Playing for Clint Trickett, who was not in uniform after suffering a concussion last week against Texas, the Mountaineers outgained Kansas 386-376, but never gained yardage when it mattered.
"At the end of the day, we got beat on all three sides of the ball,'' said nose guard Shaq Rowell, one of roughly a dozen WVU seniors who won't be finishing their careers in a bowl game. "Kansas wanted it more than we did, from the first quarter through the fourth quarter.''
West Virginia gave up 31 straight points to the Jayhawks after scoring with ease on the first possession of the game. All of the Kansas scores resulted from either long James Sims runs or awful Millard turnovers. Twice he threw passes right at Kansas linebackers who caught the balls and returned them to set up touchdowns.
While West Virginia didn't compete very well beyond the opening minutes of the game, things didn't really get out of hand until the second half. In fact, trailing 17-7 at the break, WVU held Kansas to a three-and-out and seemed to be driving for a score.
But then on a first-down play from the 30, Millard inexplicably threw the ball straight into the chest of the only pass rusher near him. Ben Goodman caught the ball and began lumbering down the field until Millard finally caught him and ran him out of bounds at the WVU 14. Five plays later, James Sims scored from the 2 to make it 24-7.
"We had things going the way we wanted them before that,'' Holgorsen said.
The trouble is, there always seemed to be an "after that.'' After every good play was a bad one. Another interception in the fourth quarter allowed Kansas to stretch the score to rout proportions. Millard threw right into the hands of linebacker Ben Heeney from near his own goal line and Heeney returned it 28 yards to the 1. A play later Brandon Bourbon scored to make it 31-7.
West Virginia got a couple of consolation scores to make the score more respectable - a Millard pass to Kevin White and a Charles Sims run - but KU was never in danger of losing.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.