MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen is fond of saying his West Virginia football team is a work in progress. Well, in at least one way, the Mountaineers seemed to make a lot of progress between losing at Syracuse and nearly losing at Rutgers the past two weekends.
They learned, at least for this week, not to underestimate the underdog, especially one that appears to be playing with more naturally generated motivation.
Syracuse was offended at being a two-touchdown underdog at home to a team it beat on the road a year ago and seemed further ticked off by a perceived nonchalant - or even superior - attitude by the Mountaineers prior to the game. The Orange crumpled WVU up and threw it away, winning 49-23.
But Rutgers had perhaps even more motivation, and the Knights and coach Greg Schiano all but admit as much. They had lost 16 straight to WVU and were playing the Mountaineers for perhaps the last time. Paralyzed defensive lineman Eric LeGrand led the team onto the field in a wheelchair. Even a freak snowstorm worked in Rutgers' favor against WVU's precision-based offense.
Shoot, Schiano made defensive changes during the offseason designed to get quicker players on the field, even at the expense of defending against power football. Linebacker Khaseem Green was asked last week how many of those changes he figured were aimed at being able to better defend West Virginia.
"I would say probably all of them,'' Green said.
Yet with all of that working for them - not to mention a crowd announced at 47,303 and a 10-point halftime lead - Rutgers still couldn't do anything in the end but mark down consecutive loss No. 17.
"Credit goes to West Virginia,'' Schiano said after his own losing streak against WVU reached 11. "They found a way to get it done. We didn't. We will eventually.''
Well, not if West Virginia is successful in bailing out of the Big East for the Big 12 by next fall. And that will happen.
When it does, chances are good that Rutgers' losing streak against West Virginia lives in perpetuity. Perhaps there will be a non-league game somewhere down the road, but no one will hold their breath - or their schedules - waiting for that.
From West Virginia's point of view, though, extending the winning streak over Rutgers was only peripheral motivation. Simply winning the game and overcoming its own foibles was what mattered most.