Hot and cold spurts have become as common as the changing October weather patterns for No. 22 West Virginia, which has yet to put together a solid start-to-finish performance in Big 12 play.
In consecutive weeks, the Mountaineers needed a second-half offensive surge to come from 18 points down to beat Texas Tech and they nearly squandered a 25-point lead Saturday at Baylor. On Sept. 23, a big early lead at Kansas almost vanished before the Mountaineers finally pulled away.
West Virginia (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) will look for more consistent solid play as it tries to stay in contention for a spot in the conference championship game.
“I think our guys are in a good place,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday.
The Texas Tech and Baylor games were “a good learning experience for us,” he said. “Here’s the good news: We’ve been on both sides of it, and we’re 2-0. When you’re on either one of those sides, it’s easy to be 0-2. For us to be on the winning side gives us confidence.”
Against Baylor, Will Grier had 375 passing yards and five touchdowns through three quarters to stake the Mountaineers to a 38-13 lead. But West Virginia punted on its final three drives, and Grier’s final five pass attempts were incompletions, including two drops.
Baylor’s offense came alive under freshman backup quarterback Charlie Brewer and that energy was felt elsewhere, especially when the Bears recovered an onside kick after a touchdown.
But with time winding down, West Virginia’s Xavier Preston sacked Brewer on a 2-point conversion after another TD. The Mountaineers recovered the ensuing onside kick and escaped with a 38-36 win.
Holgorsen noted that his limited depth chart doesn’t afford him the luxury of substituting freely on defense. As a result, his players tired against Baylor as the game wound down.
“We had a such a good third quarter, I think we kind of got complacent and forgot to finish,” Holgorsen said. “We played three good quarters of football but then let them get back in it. You can’t do that because anybody in the Big 12 can get themselves out of a hole real quick.”
Especially over the final five league games. West Virginia will face three ranked opponents who are currently tied with the Mountaineers for second place, including home games Saturday against No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) and Nov. 4 against No. 25 Iowa State. The other is on Nov. 25 at No. 10 Oklahoma.
“I still think that we haven’t played up to our potential yet,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “So it’s definitely been a challenge to get these kids to try to put together a complete game.
Although they haven’t hit their season average the past three games, West Virginia remains one of the nation’s top offenses at 539 yards per game.
Grier has a national-best 26 TD passes and wide receiver David Sills leads the nation with 15 TD catches after scoring three times against Baylor. Yet even that was barely enough.
“I think just continue to keep our foot on the gas, not get comfortable in any way, not try to change up what we do,” Sills said. “Because I think when we’re clicking, we’re a pretty explosive offense that is tough for a lot of defenses. If we could just put together that full game of that, I think we’ll be good.”