The mistakes came early and often and despite a spirited second half West Virginia was unable to overcome their own mistakes as they lost to the 12th ranked Kansas State Wildcats 26-20. The Mountaineers once again were their own worst enemy and a three game losing streak threatens to spoil a season that was once in some heady, heady places.
After WVU got the ball to open up play they couldn't do anything and were forced to punt away. The Wildcats took the ball and marched right down the field, going 49 yards in 8 plays ending with a 7 yard touchdown to DeMarcus Robinson to take a 7-0 lead. It would be the last touchdown drive Kansas State would mount.
West Virginia took the ensuing kickoff and mounted their own drive, going 69 yards in 11 plays before providing a perfect microcosm of the game to come. Where the Wildcats took their opening red zone opportunity and turned it into 7, the Mountaineers continued their woes near paydirt as Clint Trickett muffed a handoff to Wendell Smallwood and the lost the ball at the 2 yard line. That play would prove prescient for a WVU team that seemed to blot out every success with a crippling mistake.
The teams slogged through the next few minutes, trading possessions and punts before KSU mounted another drive that made it to the WVU 19 before what would be a bend-but-don't-break WVU defense held the Wildcats to Matthew McCrane's 36 yard field goal that extended the lead to 10-0.
The Mountaineers would finally get on the board with a 47 yard Josh Lambert field goal that was so close it actually bounced off the top of the upright protection pad after eeking over the crossbar. It seemed that Clint Trickett had finally settled in as he hit 3 passes for over 10 yards each.
Unfortunately WVU would enter a stretch of football that more closely resembled a nut-shot compilation from "America's Funniest Home Videos." The Wildcats fumbled the ensuing kickoff and WVU recovered at the KSU 22 yard line. What followed was a play that almost cemented a place in WVU lore. An errant pass to Jordan Thompson bounced off him and then a pair of rolling K State defenders before a diving Kevin White corralled the ball and took it into the end zone. After a lengthy replay review, the call was overturned on the evidence of a reverse camera angle that showed the ball coming very close to the turf. A deflated team and stadium was unable to make any headway and the normally reliable Lambert missed a 40 yard field goal - his second consecutive game with a miss.
The run wasn't over. The WVU D would hold again and the Mountaineers got it back, but a long 37 yard completion to Kevin White was negated on a questionable offensive pass interference call. As if that wasn't bad enough, the ensuing horrible Nick O'Toole punt was low and to the wrong side and Tyler Lockett had an easy 43 yards to the end zone. It was the 3rd punt return for a touchdown given up this year by a unit that has been consistently unreliable.
The hole nearly got deeper as Trickett was baited by Kansas State corner Randall Evans into a foolish pass in the flat that would have been returned for a touchdown but for a diving Trickett tackle that stopped him at the 24 and might have also given Trickett the concussion that would ultimately knock him out of the game. WVU got a temporary lift heading into the locker room as they blocked the field goal attempt as the first half clock expired.
Things didn't get better in the second half after the Mountaineer defense held again only to give the ball back to an offense that didn't have much interest in protecting it. Trickett threw his second and final interception of the, missing a crossing Wendell Smallwood and landing in the arms of Kansas State's Dante Barnette. This one K State would turn into a field goal that stretched the lead to 20-3 with over 9 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.
At this point the Skyler Howard era began in Morgantown as Trickett was taken to the locker room for a concussion. Howard found immediate success, leading WVU on a 3 minute 79 yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 7 yard score to Kevin White, the Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist's first score in 3 games. A rocking Milan Puskar Stadium cheered another defensive stop, but then the special team's gremlins were back. Vernon Davis made as boneheaded a play as you'll ever see, standing close to a rolling ball that bounced off his foot and was recovered by Kansas State.
After setting up shop at the WVU 16 yard line, the Wildcats managed a field goal in yet another heroic effort by the Mountaineer D. The teams traded possessions before WVU made one final gasp. Kansas State missed a short field goal from 22 and WVU got the ball back, driving a short way before fans were treated to a sight that had become all too rare. A streaking Mario Alford caught a short pass over the middle, made a couple nifty moves and hit the gear that is exclusively his. He made a mockery of the defensive angles and took the ball to paydirt, igniting the remaining frigid faithful and one final hope at a comeback.
The comeback bid fizzled with a long completion to Mountaineer killer Tyler Lockett, who finished with 10 catches for 198 yards and got the ball in scoring position for a field goal that would stretch the lead to two scores. The Mountaineers drove deep into K State territory a final time, but could come up with only a field goal to preserve time after an onsides kick. The kick was unsuccessful and the Wildcats ran out the game.
So here we are. All the sudden with one regular season game to go WVU has a full-fledged quarterback controversy and valid questions exist as to who gives this team the best chance to win. A Clint Trickett who was the nation's leading passer for a time has fizzled to a shell of his former self, the wear and tear of the hardest schedule any Mountaineer quarterback has ever faced seeming to have finally taken it's toll. It's quite likely that he sits his final regular season game out because of a concussion and things could be wide open for the bowl game.
What we do know we have is a Mountaineer team long on talent but short on competence. Kansas State's blueprint to keep everything in front and force teams to drive up and down the field seemed tailor-made to combat a WVU team that is often its own worse enemy.
It's ironic that a West Virginia football season that began with no expectations and landed the team in the rankings for a time will be looked at in retrospect with longing for what could have been. But as tempting as it is to look over our shoulder and lament the opportunities lost, all the sudden the future is now as a fully emergent defense stocked with talent that will be here in 2015 could be paired with a future signal caller to give us an exciting end to 2014.
It should be interesting.