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Time to turn it around?

MORGANTOWN - If ever a team had a perfect opportunity to snap out of a slump, this might be it for West Virginia.

The Mountaineers had an extra week off to heal and reorganize after crushing, back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. They are playing at home.

TCU is struggling. The Horned Frogs have dropped three of four since losing starting quarterback Casey Pachall. They are beat up and don't get their first off week of the season until just before Thanksgiving. TCU is playing its third road game in four weeks.

"I think,'' coach Gary Patterson said, "we're a little bit of a tired football team.''

Whether any of that makes a difference, though, remains to be seen. The answer comes when No. 19 West Virginia (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) hosts TCU (5-3, 2-3) today at Mountaineer Field. The 3 p.m. game will be televised nationally by Fox.

There are plenty of issues West Virginia has had to address since Oct. 20 when Kansas State walloped the Mountaineers 55-14, and the issues are in every phase:

  • A defense that has been poor all season has seemed to get worse, giving up 104 points against Texas Tech and Kansas State and an average of 53 in four Big 12 games. The Mountaineers rank dead last in the country in passing yards allowed and ahead of only 1-7 Colorado in defensive pass efficiency.
  • An offense that was the talk of college football for the first five games of the season remains just that, but for a far different reason. After averaging 52 points in the first five games, WVU has scored all of three offensive touchdowns in two games, two of those on short-field drives of just 54 yards.
  • Special teams remain a mess. For example, the more the offense struggles, the more the Mountaineers need to punt and change field position. But they rank No. 118 out of 120 FBS teams in net punting.
  • While all of those concerns have been addressed in practice during the past two weeks, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen also has another issue. After two disheartening losses that have taken WVU from a top-5 program with national championship aspirations to a team that isn't yet bowl eligible in November, merely keeping a positive attitude is important.

    That's a tricky task with this bunch.

    "We've got a strange combination [of players],'' Holgorsen said. "We've got a bunch of older kids that want to finish the year strong, that want to keep winning, that want to show improvement, that want to get to a good bowl game and win games. And then there's a bunch of young kids that don't understand any of this.

    "It's a combination of both and it's our job to mix the two and keep the attitude good.''

    A solid performance and a win today would certainly contribute mightily as West Virginia heads into the stretch run of the regular season. Holgorsen certainly doesn't want to take a team on a three-game losing streak into back-to-back games the next two Saturdays at Oklahoma State and home against Oklahoma. Following that is a Thanksgiving Friday game at Iowa State and the regular-season home finale Dec. 1 against Kansas.

    TCU, meanwhile, has had so many issues to deal with that it's hard to see how the Horned Frogs wouldn't be reeling right now. Injuries or other factors have subtracted the team's starting quarterback and top rusher (Waymon James) and have hampered a laundry list of other key players. Last week TCU jumped out to a 14-0 lead at Oklahoma State and then gave up 36 straight points.

    But TCU is no pushover. The Horned Frogs scored 49 in a win over Baylor three weeks ago and 53 in a three-overtime loss to Texas Tech a week later.

    While it obviously didn't do much good last week, TCU is essentially in its second week of preparing for West Virginia's offense after facing Oklahoma State, which still uses Holgorsen's scheme.

    "Playing a very similar offense at Oklahoma State, you've got to understand you have to play the deep ball and you have to be able to stop the run,'' Patterson said. "But Oklahoma State doesn't have the caliber of the two wide receivers West Virginia does. They can really get past you and get down the field one-on-one.''

    If those West Virginia receivers both play to their potential, that would surely be a boost for WVU. But while Tavon Austin has been consistent, Stedman Bailey's production has dropped off dramatically since he was injured at Texas Tech. Holgorsen refuses to discuss injuries, so how healthy Bailey is for today's game remains a great unknown.

    Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

     


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