MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Motivation has been a point of emphasis this week for Dana Holgorsen where his West Virginia football team is concerned.
And why not? The Mountaineers have free-fallen from national championship contenders to irrelevance within their own Big 12 Conference. In the throes of a four-game losing streak, West Virginia isn't even guaranteed to extend its 10-year bowl streak.
So as the week wore on, Holgorsen invited a handful of past Mountaineers to town. Pat White is here. So are Bruce Irvin and others, perhaps as much to kick some lethargic tail as to inspire.
Still, when West Virginia (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) hosts No. 13 Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1) tonight at Mountaineer Field (7 p.m., Fox), inspiration and motivation will go only so far. There is still the execution part to deal with, and for the past four weeks the Mountaineers have been wholly lacking in that area.
There is a defense that can't seem to stop anyone, an offense that no longer creates highlight-reel plays with any regularity and special teams that are exposed in different ways each week. Motivation goes only so far in correcting those.
"It's all about execution,'' said quarterback Geno Smith. "We know what we have to do. We've done it before. We have to start doing it again.''
The good news, if there is such a thing, is that over the course of the last two weeks it seems as if progress has been made.
The defense is no longer an automatic out. In lopsided losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State, those opponents essentially didn't need a punter, calling on them just once in each game. Kansas State had the ball 10 times and scored nine. Texas Tech scored on seven of its first 11 possessions and might have made it nine but for a missed field goal and a dropped pass that turned into a gift interception.
But in losses to TCU and Oklahoma State, those teams punted 14 times and had 21 possessions that didn't end in scores. That's progress.
Offensively, West Virginia scored just three touchdowns and no field goals in the losses to Tech and K-State (another TD came on a kick return). In the last two weeks the Mountaineers have scored six times in each game, and for the first time in the slide WVU had a healthy Stedman Bailey, who accounted for 225 receiving yards. That's promising, as well.