By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
A Big East championship that West Virginia was so confident of winning at the beginning of the season is now slipping away.
Special teams gaffes, turnovers and an inability to stop Louisville inside the red zone proved costly in No. 24 West Virginia’s 38-35 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.
A crowd of 57,287 watched West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) lose at home for the second time this season — the first time that’s happened since 2003.
“Words can’t explain it,” said West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. “It’s just a total team loss. We obviously didn’t make enough plays on offense to win the game and that’s what hurts the most.”
The mood was expectedly subdued in West Virginia’s locker room afterward, but the players refused to concede the season is lost.
West Virginia will likely need to win its final three games against Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida and get some help to have a shot at the league’s BCS berth.
“We know that in this league anything can happen for the most part,” said receiver Stedman Bailey. “We just have to work hard and move forward.”
The Cardinals (5-4, 3-1) used their highest scoring output of the season to win their third straight, but still trail Cincinnati in the Big East standings after the Bearcats defeated Pittsburgh 26-24 on Saturday night.
Smith threw for 410 yards and three scores but couldn’t bring the Mountaineers back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.
“We’re definitely not doing what it takes to win,” Smith said.
Despite being outgained 533-351, Louisville’s offense found the end zone four times after failing on half its red-zone trips all season.
“You’ve got to give it up to Louisville,” West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin said. “They protected the ball and they did a good job of moving the chains. Our hats are off to them. They played a good game.”