MORGANTOWN - Every time it seems like West Virginia's football team is ready to take a step forward, an old deficiency rears its ugly head and slaps the Mountaineers back.
On Saturday it was special teams and turnovers, which were the difference in a 38-35 loss at home to Louisville.
Remember the punting woes from earlier this season and the field goal issues that date back more than a year? They're back. And the nasty habit of dropping the football at the worst possible times? That returned, too.
Yes, WVU's defense had its moments of lapse. Louisville hadn't scored more than 25 points all season, but the Cardinals had 24 before the end of the third quarter.
But that wouldn't have mattered had it not been for the other mistakes.
"This one wasn't very hard to figure out,'' first-year West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You lose the turnover battle and go 0-for-2 on field goals and that gets you beat.''
It was a crushing setback for the Mountaineers, who came into the game ranked No. 24 and solidly in control of their own destiny in the race for the Big East title and a BCS bowl berth. Now WVU (6-3, 2-2 Big East) is on the outside looking in at a still-muddled race for the league title.
Louisville (5-4, 2-2), meanwhile, continued its midseason surge, winning for the third time in a row after victories against Rutgers and Syracuse.
The difference in this one? Well, from West Virginia's perspective, everyone gets a share of the blame, even an offense that generated another 500-yard performance (533 total yards, 410 passing) and 35 points. But when the game was in the balance to start the second half tied 21-21, WVU's first five possessions resulted in two fumbles, two missed field goals and a turnover on downs.
It was one of those missed field goals, though, that was the killer.
Trailing 24-21 as the third quarter turned into the fourth, West Virginia lined up for what seemed like a chip-shot, 23-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt to tie the game. It came at the end of a drive that began on WVU's 21-yard line and included a 46-yard catch and run by Stedman Bailey.
But Louisville's Adrian Bushell came untouched from the edge and cleanly blocked Bitancurt's attempt almost before it left his foot. The ball bounced cleanly to the side and into the arms of freshman Andrew Johnson, who ran 82 yards for a touchdown.