Hypothetically, the pump up song for the West Virginia football team, prior to Saturday’s kick off against Kansas State was Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. At the end of the day, and the 24-23 win by the Wildcats, the Mountaineers were listening to Everybody Plays The Fool by The Main Ingredient, as WVU has lost to Kansas State in all four of their meetings as Big 12 Conference rivals.
It’s not like West Virginia was surprised by Kansas State. As head coach Dana Holgorsen said last Tuesday, ” If I had to circle one that I wanted to get at the beginning of the year, this would be it.”
So, with a mark on the calendar, the Mountaineers end the regular season with a fifth mark in the loss column. Dating back to Oct. 20, 2012, West Virginia has lost four-straight games to the Wildcats. Saturday’s loss was the closest, having a halftime lead at that, but the Mountaineers have been outscored by KSU, 140-69.
Dec 5, 2015; Manhattan, KS, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Daikiel Shorts (6) carries the ball as Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Donnie Starks (10) tackles at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The Wildcats won 24-23. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of blame can be passed around the team for this loss. Skyler Howard was 19 of 42 for 281 yards and a lot of those incompletions were the result of dropped balls by wide receivers. Jovon Durante, Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts were all chastised by Holgorsen on the sideline for seemingly pointless miscues. Durante, in particular, dropped what-would-have-been a sure-fire touchdown in the first half. He late redeemed himself hauling in a 24-yard score for Howard. Gibson seemed to have trouble getting his hands around the ball all day, while Shorts dropped a much-needed ball for positive yards in the fourth quarter.
What was working for the Mountaineers was the run game, however Holgorsen opted to stray away from it when it was needed most. Wendell Smallwood finished with 25 carries for 141 yards, which left him nine yards short of becoming the regular season leader among all Big 12 rushers.
Facing a fourth and one with 2:33 to play in regulation, the Mountaineers ran the ball – not with Smallwood – but with Howard and were stopped short of the first down, giving the ball back to Kansas State and, thus, ending the game.
It was a baffling decision as Howard came into the game with a sore right hand, for one, and a bothered ankle which he looked to have injured in the first quarter against the Wildcats.
"“He made the right read,” Smallwood said. “There were two guys in my face. I can’t be mad at that. He made the right read and did his job and just didn’t get the first down. He outruns those guys if he can run.”"
Smallwood seemed OK with the play call, just not the personnel carrying it out. Howard had -13 rushing yards on 10 carries and was sacked four times. His longest carry was four yards, so it’s not as if the sacks brought his rushing total down terribly. Howard was running the ball efficiently during the Mountaineers’ four-game winning streak in November and he actually led the team with 73 yards in the last home game against Iowa State.
Howard wasn’t at his best, physically, and that was even evident as he retreated to the locker room with trainers while the Mountaineers were on defense in the first half. Instead of bringing in back up William Crest, though, Holgorsen opted with a hobbled Howard.
He made that decision in the fourth quarter, too, and it cost the Mountaineers the game.