MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen took more than one opportunity last week to insist that his West Virginia football team was not as bad as it seemed.
Chalk it up to simply being defensive, if you will. After all, Holgorsen is being paid a lot of money - $2.625 million this year and $14.525 million over this year and the next four, plus incentives - for coaching a football team that was 2-2 to start the season, 4-8 over the last 12 games and had just absorbed a 37-0 whitewashing at Maryland.
Being defensive under those circumstances is to be expected.
Turns out, though, that when Holgorsen swore that his team was "that close'' - thumb and forefinger an inch apart - to being a good one, perhaps he was being more than just self-protective. Perhaps he really believed it to be so.
And, well, if Saturday's performance against No. 11 Oklahoma State was a barometer, maybe he was right.
The Mountaineers didn't exactly shock the college football world with a 30-21 win over the Cowboys, but they certainly made a noticeable rumble. A team that couldn't seem to get out of its own way during most of the first four games of the season made a bit of a statement.
No, it wasn't that West Virginia is suddenly some sort of juggernaut. It was simply that the Mountaineers aren't a laughingstock. They are competitive and more than capable of playing with the best teams in the Big 12.
Just like Holgorsen insisted they were.
"I'm really proud of our team,'' Holgorsen said. "You can look at stats, but the bottom line is our team bought in and started playing.''
Holgorsen's team also got breaks. Good ones. And a lot of them.
In fact, it can be argued that as ugly as the game a week before against Maryland was, it actually wasn't much different than Saturday's against Oklahoma State. Hard to believe? Yes. But perhaps it's true.
Consider that in the loss at Maryland, the offense struggled to start with and the defense was actually fine for the most part, save for the awful spots it was put in by the offense. The special teams, meanwhile, were hot and cold.