Mountaineers’ collapse not a surprise to fans

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

33,785 fans could have sat in the comfort of their own home and enjoyed epic battles on television between Ohio State-Michigan and Auburn-Alabama. But instead they came out and supported their beloved West Virginia Mountaineers, and for their loyalty were rewarded with yet another collapse.

This time a 31-7 second quarter lead and a 17-point fourth quarter margin disappeared in a fiasco against an opponent whose two wins in its first 11 games were over the likes of Tulsa and Kansas.

A 4-8 record could more easily be understood and accepted if this were a team totally overmatched in talent. But that wasn’t always the case. You don’t outplay Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas for three quarters, or build a 24 point lead over an Iowa State without some athletic ability. But something happens on the way to the finish line and it hasn’t been pretty.

Things that work on offense and defense through the first two thirds of a game suddenly are thwarted when opposing coaching staffs make adjustments, but the Mountaineers seem then to have no answers. When an opponent down 17 in the fourth quarter is able to successfully run a fake punt on fourth and 17, or turn a second and 25 into a 62-yard touchdown pass, you know there are some issues.

And when games are decided along the line of scrimmage by toughness and a will to win the closer they get to the finish the less resolve this football team seems to have. In each of the last two home games, West Virginia had a first down inside the 5 yard line needing a score in overtime and in eight tries came up empty.

Anyone who has watched this team closely all season knew that once the game Saturday got to overtime there wasn’t likely to be a Mountaineer victory. And what is discomforting about that is there was a sense that the players knew that too. Failure breeds failure. This has been a team that has perfected the art of how to lose. And they have learned it well.

Some will use the excuse about moving up to the Big 12 was just too much of an upgrade in opposition. While it is true that the caliber of opponents is much better, WVU has just proven by losing to the two teams at the bottom of the league that it is more about how bad West Virginia has become than how good the opposition. If we think this team wouldn’t have lost games to a number of old Big East teams we are kidding ourselves.

Since leaving Austin, Texas, as an undefeated and ranked team early in October, 2012, West Virginia has lost 14 of 20 games. The Mountaineers got worse as the season progressed in last season and the same thing happened in 2013. That is not a good testament to the leadership of the program.

A few weeks ago when commenting about the state of the Mountaineer football program I opined that we had declined to the point of being a cut just above Iowa State. I owe Iowa State an apology. The team that came into Morgantown was a bad football team at 2-9, had little to play for, 800 miles from home on a cold day and down 24 points. A lot of teams would have just played out the string and warmed up the bus to hurry back to the airport. But the Cyclones didn’t quit, played hard, had a will to win and fought back. As hard as it was to watch you had to have some grudging admiration for their fortitude.

WVU fans hope to someday see that on our side of the field again.

So with the Thanksgiving having just passed Mountaineer fans have one last thing to be thankful for -that this season is finally over.

But let’s not forget that it is only football.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday season.