Seven games into the 2012 football schedule, West Virginia fans were able to take a rest from the rollercoaster ride of the year so far. Expectations were that the Mountaineers would be a very good football team, and those hopes were elevated after an upset win at Texas that left WVU at 5-0. But after suffering two routs at the hands of Texas Tech and Kansas State, fans were left wondering if the whole season might unravel.
There surely was no rest in Morgantown as players and coaches spent the bye week trying to pick up the pieces and turn things around. This will be a big challenge for coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff. The confidence of this team is now shaky. The defense is ranked virtually last in all of college football in points surrendered and one must wonder whether this unit will be capable of any significant improvement.
The good news is that Holgorsen faced a similar situation in 2011 after losses to Syracuse and Louisville in the middle of the season, but instead of allowing things to fall apart ,the Mountaineers made several fourth-quarter comebacks down the stretch to win the Big East and cap the season with a trouncing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
The bad news is that turning the season around in 2012 will have to be against a Big 12 schedule that is much more formidable than that faced by WVU last season. Down the stretch in 2011,West Virginia salvaged the year with wins over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida. Not that those weren't decent opponents, but in 2012 November begins with TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Certainly a schedule upgrade.
One of the puzzles of October is what happened to the WVU offense that seemed so unstoppable in the first five games. Against Texas Tech and Kansas State, the Mountaineer offense was able to score only three touchdowns (one came on a Tavon Austin kickoff return), and two of those were as the fourth quarter was winding down and the games had long been decided. The answer to that question is one that the coaching staff will need to solve, because to win any games, West Virginia will need to score points, and lots of them. Frankly, my view is that part of the problem is that the defense has been so hopeless that the heart has been taken out of the offensive unit. It's difficult to play with confidence when a failure to score every possession means that the rest of the afternoon you are playing from behind.
Some good things need to happen to create some momentum and give this team some of its mojo back. A big scoring play. A turnover here or there. Gosh, at this point if the defense forces a punt it may be worth a standing ovation. But whatever it takes, the Mountaineers will need to fight through adversity and try and salvage the 2012 season.
This Saturday: The other new entry to the Big 12 has found its first season to have some bumps in the road as well. TCU was looking forward to playing with a good returning starter at quarterback, but Casey Pachall was arrested for DUI days before their conference home opener and is off the team. Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin has played reasonably well, but after beating Baylor on the road and suffering a tough double overtime loss at home to Texas Tech, they lost another last Saturday to Oklahoma State 36-14 after leading 14-0. This will be the second consecutive road trip and the fourth in six weeks for the Horned Frogs, so the Mountaineers may be catching them at the right time. West Virginia 41, TCU 36.