Indeed, that team did rebound pretty well, although losses to Cincinnati and Pitt later in the year would reduce the Mountaineers to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. That team finished 9-4.
West Virginia still has a chance to finish with the same Big East record (5-2) that it has earned in each of the last four years. The Mountaineers can even still match their best regular-season record under Stewart at 9-4 with wins in the final four games against Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt and Rutgers.
Still, this is not the path West Virginia envisioned at the start of the season or even just over a week ago. That's when the Mountaineers were ranked in the Top 20, were 5-1 and could realistically envision a potential 11-1 season in the lukewarm Big East and a BCS bowl berth.
That West Virginia has now lost back-to-back close games - the three losses this season have come by 6, 5 and 3 points - would seem more than frustrating. For a team with such high hopes it would seem to border on dispiriting.
But in the aftermath of a defeat that was born of four fumbles at the most inopportune times - a week after three interceptions were the foe as much as Syracuse - there still seemed to be hope.
"I feel like everybody is going to dig deep and try harder and get the job done,'' said senior cornerback Brandon Hogan. "We don't have much choice.''
"Turnovers aren't something we try to do,'' Smith said. "But all the blame goes to me.''
When pressed on what specifically happened on the exchange - Clarke never had the ball and it dropped straight to the ground - Smith refused several times to elaborate.
"It was just a fumble,'' he said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.