West Virginia looks to regain spark after first loss
Minimizing turnovers fueled West Virginia's unbeaten start. Coughing up the ball ended it.
Quarterback Skyler Howard was responsible for all three of the Mountaineers' turnovers last week that allowed Oklahoma State to score 17 points in the Cowboys' 37-20 win.
One loss on the road halted weeks of momentum that had thrust the Mountaineers into the national conversation after starting the season unranked.
With a conference title very much up for grabs, No. 14 West Virginia (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) has a chance to replenish its confidence at home against Kansas (1-7, 0-5) on Saturday before embarking on a tough four-week stretch to finish the regular season.
While playing the Jayhawks might seem like a breather compared to what lies ahead, including games against No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 13 Baylor, coach Dana Holgorsen won't put up with anything but his team's best preparations to play a last-place team.
“If you pin your whole season off of one loss, then there's going to be 99 percent disappointed people across the country. It's college football,” Holgorsen said. “It happens. What you have to do is you have to use it as motivation to go out there and practice harder, prepare harder.”
The offense's struggles against Oklahoma State were a bit of a surprise. West Virginia had no turnovers in its two previous games and Howard had previously thrown four interceptions all season.
All three turnovers Saturday ended up giving Oklahoma State the ball inside West Virginia's 20, although one of his interceptions bounced off a receiver's hands.
West Virginia's veteran offensive line has allowed nine sacks in its last two games. Holgorsen blamed some of those on Howard. His second-quarter fumble against the Cowboys came as he was in the grasp of Vincent Taylor, who had gotten around guard Grant Lingafelter.
Offensive line coach Ron Crook wants his linemen to finish blocks better. And Holgorsen wants his quarterback to protect the football, keep his eyes downfield not try to shoulder the responsibilities of an entire offense.
“Nobody has higher expectations for him than him,” Holgorsen said. “He probably needs to reduce a little pressure that he puts on himself and go out there and just play the game. That's a good quality that he has. It's our job to make sure those don't get too high for him.”
Center Tyler Orlosky said he expects Howard to bounce back quickly.
“He's a competitor,” Orlosky said. “He's a guy that is going to come out this week I think in practice and be that leader we need. He'll get guys going and he'll be focused and he'll be locked in.”
Howard said getting ready for heavy underdog Kansas will be no different than other games. He said what's different is outsiders' perceptions of playing Kansas or FCS Youngstown State earlier this season.
“People thought, obviously, that we have Youngstown this week, we're OK. We don't have to practice as hard. We don't have to do the little things,” he said. “And that's not the truth. You do have to do the little things.”