MORGANTOWN - A month ago West Virginia's Geno Smith was the near unanimous choice by every media member with an opinion to win this year's Heisman Trophy.
Two straight losses, an off week and a heart-breaking double overtime loss to Texas Christian University later, Smith's name has become an after thought for college football's most sought after prize.
The Mountaineers' senior quarterback hasn't allowed all of the negativity surrounding him and the team's offense take him away from preparing for this week's contest against Oklahoma State, however.
"We (the offense) just have to go out there on Saturday with the mentality that we are going to score," said Smith. "We have to be confident. We have to play fast, and we have to play hard.
"Things haven't changed for us. I still think we have a really good offense. We are making progress, working guys in and out of the rotation as far as receivers, backs and offensive linemen. We are going to have fresh bodies out there and are going to be ready to play."
But, will that be enough to overcome an OSU defense which limited a TCU offense to only 14 points in a 36-14 victory two weeks ago?
"I think so," continued Smith. "For the most part, we were able to sustain drives and put together some good drives. Overall, we did a pretty good job at just keeping the ball in play and moving forward.
"We did not have many negative plays. We had some costly penalties here and there, or costly turnovers. That was all on me, bad reads or bad throws, probably one of the worst in my career, but overall, you know we did some things, and we have some things we need to learn from."
Smith's numbers speak for themselves.
Heading into the Mountaineers' ninth game of the season, the Florida native has completed 249-of-346 attempts (72 percent) for 2,677 yards and 29 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
Numbers that have OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young staying up nights figuring out a way to keep WVU's standout passer from returning to the form that propelled him into the national limelight through the season's first five games.
"He (Smith) is a Heisman candidate," said Young. "I know he's had a couple bad games, but he has several games left here. Anything can happen in those four games. The Heisman can really go week to week. We'll have our hands full with him."
Smith's top target-senior Tavon Austin-is receiving as much attention as the Mountaineers' quarterback from the Cowboys' prevent unit.
"He (Austin) is a great, explosive receiver, but the key for us is going to be us playing assignment football," said safety Daytawion Lowe. "I look at it as a great challenge, and our defense is going to be up for the challenge."
Austin leads the team in receptions (85), yards (889) and yards per game (111.1 ypg) and is second only to junior Stedman Bailey in receiving touchdowns with 10. But, the Maryland native's ability to return kickoffs and punts for scores has OSU head coach Mike Gundy thinking of ways to diffuse the diminutive playmaker.
"We can't stress any more than what we faced during the week," said Gundy. "That's why I'm expressing some disappointment. I was disappointed after the game, I was disappointed yesterday and I'm disappointed today.
"When I was in here last week, I talked about return yards, turnovers and making big plays while limiting theirs. All we did out of those was limit their big plays. They hit us with double moves on Gilbert, but for the most part, the percentage of big plays they've had, we limited those.
"But, we failed on turnovers, failed on tackling and we failed on return yards. What we have to do is prepare, practice it, make sure the players understand it and play with great effort. The guy we played last week is really good. This guy is a different really good. There's times he gets big returns, and he doesn't even go where they block it. He's special. He reminds me of Perrish Cox."
Making Austin's play even more important is the lack of production from Bailey during the Mountaineers' three straight losses and the inconsistency of a running attack that managed a mere 78 yards on 35 attempts against the Horned Frogs.
"Just because they're dropping eight doesn't mean they have less guys in the box," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "That's the misconception at times. There are deep safeties, which means we have to run the ball and we average 2 yards per rush; that's not good.
"It's more about us than it is TCU. TCU is pretty good at run defense; they always have been. They're top five in rush defense. We didn't do a great job of finishing blocks. When we play tougher teams and it gets hard, we need to find a way to get it done and we didn't.
"That wasn't good, but the other side of it is if they're only rushing three then we should have more time to throw the ball. They can still have the same amount of people in the box and rush six as they do rush three. If they're rushing three, we should have more time to pass the ball, if they rush six then there is more space and we should be able to get the ball in play."
Whatever the case is, WVU finds itself in a must-win situation as it pays its first-ever visit to Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.
* The game will be televised on ABC with Dave LaMont providing the play-by-play, and Kelly Stauffer the analysis.
* This marks the fourth meeting between WVU and OSU. West Virginia leads the series, 2-1.
The Cowboys won the last meeting, however, by a 35-33 margin in the 1987 Sun Bowl.
* Fans wondering when the last time WVU has dropped three straight contests will have to go back to the 2003 campaign. After opening the season with a 24-17 loss to Wisconsin and a 48-7 win over East Carolina, the Mountaineers lost to Cincinnati (15-13), Maryland (34-7) and Miami (22-20) en route to posting an 8-5 mark.