By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
The defense stinks. The offense is stuck in neutral.
Every game from here on out is a must-win or No. 25 West Virginia will likely fall short of its preseason goal of going to a BCS bowl.
A two-game losing streak is on hold temporarily as the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) use a bye week to pay closer attention to their many problems.
“Nobody’s pointing fingers anywhere,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. “We all understand that we have to continue to as coaches put them in position to be successful, teach them how their technique is, teach them how they make the plays, build confidence in them to where they can do it, and then get out there and work hard on it.”
West Virginia went 1-2 in October, the first time since 2001 that the Mountaineers had a losing record in the month.
Their uncharacteristic losing ways have some players wanting to face an opponent right away.
That includes wide receiver Tavon Austin, who scored West Virginia’s only two touchdowns in last week’s blowout loss to No. 4 Kansas State. The nation’s all-purpose yards leader from last season is averaging 203 yards a game, second to Kent State’s Dri Archer.
“The bye probably would be good for us right now,” Austin said. “But at the same time we can beat up on each other in practice all day. But if we go against somebody else (and don’t play well), then what’s the point of the bye week?
“I want to get it on now. I don’t want to wait anymore.”
Ditto for offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who doesn’t believe an entire season hinges on a few losses.
“It’s like everything in life,” Dawson said. “There’s going to be good days and bad days. So we have to stay positive and just keep forging ahead.”
The focus of this week’s patch-up efforts starts with a young defense, which has been forced to use numerous freshmen and sophomores.
In addition to allowing the most passing yards of any FBS team, the Mountaineers have three total sacks and made one interception over their last three games. The unit has done a respectable job against the run but must do better in other areas.
Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said that includes “creating turnovers, three-and-outs, tackling. When we get them in a passing situation, we’ve got to make sure we get off the field.”
On offense, after throwing 24 touchdown passes in his first five games, quarterback Geno Smith has just two in the last two weeks. Holgorsen would like to see better pass protection to enable Smith to throw downfield more often.
Smith blamed himself after the Kansas State loss for not doing a better job of leadership. Holgorsen said he’s talked to Smith about that.
“If he thinks that all this falls on his shoulders, he’s sadly mistaken,” Holgorsen said. “He needs to relax a little bit and not bear that burden. That’s not his job. We’re going to get him back on track from the standpoint of just worrying what he needs to control.”
Lately, good weeks of practice haven’t translated to solid games. The Mountaineers have been outscored 104-28 in losses to Kansas State and No. 15 Texas Tech and find themselves needing a turnaround to keep pace with the first-place Wildcats (7-0, 4-0).
There’s games left against four of the six teams that are tied with or ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings, starting Nov. 3 at home against TCU (5-2, 2-2). The Horned Frogs will be West Virginia’s third straight opponent allowing fewer than 330 yards a game. Only two FBS teams have more interceptions than TCU’s 14.
Last year in its final season in the Big East, the Mountaineers trailed by two games in the loss column with three weeks left in the season. They won their three remaining games, teams ahead of them lost and West Virginia earned the league’s automatic BCS berth.
“We bounced back last year,” Holgorsen said. “This is different because of who we’re playing. We’re playing some pretty good teams.”
Staying patience with the game plan will be key. Holgorsen said he tells his players all the time that if they are going to rely on the coaching staff to make the perfect call every single play, then failure is inevitable.
“Nobody can do that. Nobody can make the perfect call all the time,” he said. “So we can put you in position the best we possibly can. We need to do a better job.”