WVU Reality Falls Short of Preseason Hopes - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Reality Falls Short of Preseason Hopes

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MORGANTOWN -

Over the summer, Darwin Cook said that he and his teammates intended to shock the world. Those were his words, meant to describe how much better West Virginia football would be than preseason publications gave it credit for.

It wasn't just Cook and the other players, though, the coaches echoed those thoughts. They did their best to convey a message of optimism about the immediate future of the program.

Eight games in, with just three victories, the Mountaineers are falling to a level below what many predicted.

"I probably gave ourselves a little bit too much credit," head coach Dana Holgorsen said after his team dropped a 35-17 decision at Kansas State. "I thought we could coach them up a little bit better, I thought our continuity would take care of itself just by playing together and practicing."

There must have been something in those summer months that led the players and coaches to exude such confidence when they spoke about the upcoming season. It could not have just been the heat getting to their heads.

With no real access to practice, the media was left to decide what to believe about the 2013 version of the Mountaineers based on answers to questions posed in interview sessions. There was reason to believe the defense would improve and despite replacing some key components along the offensive line, the running game was supposed to be a thing to be feared by the opponents on the schedule.

The defense began the season well and showed signs that it had, in fact, turned the proverbial corner and become one of the better units in the conference. But recent weeks, many of the positives for that side of the ball have become negatives and the inability to get off the field on third down has torn apart the progress.

The running game is nothing close to what the Mountaineers expected. The most experienced Mountaineers, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, are absent from the team and from the field, respectively. Newcomers Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith have shown flashes of what they are capable of, but when there is no blocking in front of them, they are getting taken down in the backfield before anything can develop.

"It's the same old deal," said Holgorsen. "We're not doing a very good job offensively. We're not scoring, we're not finishing drives, we're not finishing blocks, we're not making people miss in the open, we're not catching the ball downfield. I mean, you guys see it. It keeps me up at night."

It's funny that Holgorsen phrases his last sentence that way. In the preseason, he said he wasn't losing sleep over what the Mountaineers had to replace from last season's offense. Now?

"I'm losing sleep now," he said.

For the seniors on this team, time is running out. With five losses, the season is already far below what they anticipated and even to win out would leave them with a disappointing finish to their time in Morgantown.

"It's heartbreaking," Cook says now. "Anybody in that type of situation, it's your last go around, you want to make it your best one and evidently, I guess we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing right now."

Senior defensive lineman Shaq Rowell said after the most recent setback that he went through the visitor's locker room in Manhattan, Kan. and told the rest of the team that it just needs to focus on the next one. Saturday at TCU is all the Mountaineers are allowed to think about after they watched film of the defeat together.

"I want four more wins," Rowell said. "You get seven wins, that's a better bowl game than going to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, you know what I mean? But seriously, though, I do want to go to a bowl game. It just means so much. We put so much work in."

It's difficult to imagine just two seasons removed from a dominating BCS bowl victory that the program is simply looking to make a bowl game at all. The last time that didn't happen at WVU was in Rich Rodriguez's first season back in 2001.

There have been 11-straight bowl appearances, including three of the BCS variety, since then. Some of those teams had higher expectations than this year's bunch, and some were similarly picked to struggle. They all had that preseason confidence, though.

The Mountaineers are grasping for that confidence now, hoping that it does not completely slip away before the guaranteed part of their season – and some of their careers – comes to an end. 

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