Mounting Losses Changing Bowl Bid

Perhaps it was a level-headed Geno Smith who said it best Saturday night after West Virginia lost a third straight game for the first time in nearly a decade, plummeting to seventh place in the Big 12.

He said he’s been on great teams. And he’s been on average teams. The difference, he said, is very little.

Perhaps it’s a blocked field goal in overtime. Or maybe a fumble in overtime. These are the kinds of things that turn a once-promising season into a marginal one in the blink of an eye.

In the end, plays like that mean the difference in bowl games that are state-wide holidays, and, well, ones like the Mountaineers are positioned to play in at the moment.

The No. 7 team in the Big 12 is slated to play, get this, the No. 4 team from the Big East in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (assuming that No. 7 team becomes bowl eligible. Right now, or an hour from now if you haven’t yet changed your clock, it isn’t).

The No. 4 team in the Big East is Syracuse. Is anyone able to wrap their head around that?

Of course, bowl organizers aren’t bound to that type of slotting, and there are four games left for the Mountaineers to change this unimaginable fate. Here’s a better idea. Let’s have Pitt win a few games and jump into that No. 4 spot. Then they can play the Backyard Brawl in the Bronx and suddenly you have the most interesting low-tier bowl game in the history of low-tier bowls.

Or perhaps, West Virginia will win a few more and jump back into Alamo Bowl conversation against the likes of Stanford or someone.

Either way, it won’t be easy. Despite what you read in a box score, West Virginia’s defense showed a mountain of improvement Saturday. The Mountaineers forced three turnovers, had three sacks and six three-and-outs. Not impressed? Type those statistics into the Baylor box score and they win that game by 40. This unit forced one turnover and one three-and-out against the Bears. Baylor was 11 of 16 on third down. TCU was 4 of 17. Big difference.

But the WVU offense is in a rut that Smith says will be tough to get out of.

When he wants to throw – and he did so 54 times Saturday – he’s facing an eight-man secondary.

”Teams have realized you don’t really want to match guys up with our receivers,” Smith said. ”I’m not saying that in a cocky manner or boastfully, it’s just a true statement. Those guys do a great job of winning. Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, J.D. Woods, they can win in 1-on-1 situations. So teams like to double-team those guys. Obviously, you can’t double team every one of those guys so someone is going to have to step up and make a play.”

Until that happens, and without a significant running game, they’re just banging their heads against the wall.

And head coach Dana Holgorsen winds up saying things like this: ”They tackled a lot better than we blocked. They whipped us up front. I thought the O-line played bad. The receivers didn’t make many plays. And Geno was probably as bad as he’s been since he’s been here.”

Other games

Not everyone lost on a 2-point conversion play in a second overtime Saturday. It didn’t take Kansas nearly that long in a 41-14 loss to a Baylor team that had lost a handful in a row. Kansas stayed close in the first half, but threw up a goose egg in the second half while giving up three touchdowns and a total of 666 yards of offense. Oklahoma whipped Iowa State, 35-20, as Bob Stoops moved into a second-place tie with Bud Wilkinson on the Sooners’ career victories list, 12 shy of tying Barry Switzer for the top spot. Texas moved back into relevance with a 31-22 victory against a ranked Texas Tech team, while Kansas State stayed in the national title picture, and very much in control of its own Big 12 championship destiny, with a 24-point second quarter on its way to a 44-30 beating of Oklahoma State.

This week’s games

Kansas at Texas Tech

Iowa State at Texas

West Virginia at Oklahoma State

Baylor at Oklahoma

Kansas State at TCU

You can bet two things will happen in the days leading up to the WVU-Oklahoma State game. 1) Much of the media focus will be on Holgorsen returning to Oklahoma State. 2). Holgorsen will have little, if any, interest in talking about any of it. In fact, the only person less interested in talking about Stillwater is Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: