West Virginia is searching for answers in a very bleak place right now.
With a defense that has shown zero improvement from week one to seven, there are concerns that run deeper than any could have realistically predicted when the season opened.
Across the field on Saturday night, West Virginia's coaches saw what they wish their own sideline possessed.
A Kansas State team that was sound in all three phases of the game and completely outclassed the Mountaineers rolled up the score to hang 55 on the home team with 479 yards of offense.
The entire team hung its head as it retreated to the locker room, ashamed of the score that lit the scoreboard above them.
"I hope they're embarrassed," says defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. "I'm embarrassed. This is not how West Virginia defense is played."
DeForest is correct. There has been a reputation in the program's history of strong defenses, but regardless of what the history says, there is no precedence for this sort of showing. Both DeForest and Keith Patterson said they've never experienced something like what they're currently going through with the Mountaineers.
Two seasons ago, one of the best defenses the program has known stood on Mountaineer Field. Through the entire year, that group gave up 176 points in 13 games. Through four Big 12 games, this year's team has yielded 212.
As the points on the opponent's side of the scoreboard continue to mount, the defenders would likely rather slip into a hole somewhere than remain on the bench faced with the knowledge that they will be asked to go back on the field.
They will be asked to once again play a scheme that has not worked with the current personnel and try their best to buck a trend that shows no signs of slowing.
"I think you have to reevaluate everything – who's on the field and scheme and how much we can do and not do and you've got to do something to try to get better quick," says Patterson.
The loss for answers is evident in the number of players who
substitute in and out of the lineup and the alarming rate at which those with
so little experience are counted on.
Take out all 11 and put in a new player at each position and there has been no noticeable difference.
"What do you want me to change?" Holgorsen asked after the game. "We played somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30 players on defense. They are what we got. We're going to focus hard on them, especially with all the young guys we have."
Four of the starting 11 were freshmen.
What stands out is the fact that these coaches and players will tell you that the weeks leading up to each game gave them reason to believe that the result would be different. They have prepared well and were ready for what would face them on the field.
"It just seems like in practice our kids cut loose and play and you see kind of a hesitation in the game," says Patterson. "I don't know if they're worried about making mistakes, I don't know if they're thinking too much. I don't think you can sit here and put your finger on it."
As the season wears on and the results continue to be as bad as they have been, confidence seeps out like a leaky balloon. In West Virginia's case, though, that balloon has popped.
"If something bad happens early, there's always that human nature panic and that doesn't need to happen," says DeForest. "They have to understand that there's an ebb and flow to every game and it's going to be knockout punches here and there, you've just got to get back up and keep fighting."
There is very little fight left in the Mountaineers, but with five games remaining, now is the time to find whatever is still there.