There are three losses for the WVU football team through eight games this season. Those three came to schools ranked in the AP top 15 and the Mountaineers were within a touchdown of Virginia Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has a pretty simple explanation for why those three games ended in losses rather than wins.

“We don’t make a play when we need to,” he said. “That’s the bottom line — we’ve had opportunities in the first two games and we had some today, but today, we were all over the place. It was an emotional roller coaster.”

The key plays just haven’t come at opportune times in the big games for the Mountaineers. Go back to the Virginia Tech game to open the year, when the Hokies scored from the goal line to give themselves the lead. WVU couldn’t respond despite driving all the way down the field before time expired.

The same could be said for the TCU game a month later, in Forth Worth. Cornerback Elijah Battle juggled an interception that was eventually overturned in the fourth quarter, and the Horned Frogs drove for the winning score.

It was a different type of disappointment for the Mountaineers on Saturday, against Oklahoma State. The WVU defense forced four Cowboys’ turnovers but only scored seven points off of them. OSU, on the other hand, score 27 points off five turnovers from the Mountaineers.

The Cowboys went 8 of 18 on third down conversions. WVU went 2 of 15. OSU made plays when it mattered most and the Mountaineers didn’t.

After WVU stormed back to six points behind in the fourth quarter, the defense finally got a key stop, but the offense gave a possession away when a poor snap from center Matt Jones slid past quarterback Will Grier.

“From coming all the way back and getting to one possession and then all of a sudden being down two or three scores again ... it’s just all over the place,” Gibson said. “I don’t know if it’s maturity or what, I just wish I could put my finger on it to make a guy make a play when we need him to, but I haven’t been able to do that. That’s what has been frustrating.”

While Gibson would never say it, the offensive struggles and lack of capitalizing on takeaways the WVU defense gives the offense is causing the defense to be on the field too long.

The Cowboys had the ball for 14 minutes longer than the Mountaineers did. Of WVU’s
18 offensive possessions, there were nine three-and-outs.

The defense has given up its fair share of big plays and had its struggles, but the more it’s on the field, the more stress is being put on.

“The defense gets out there and creates some things and gets us the ball, and we can’t even get a first down,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said.

“We turn around and give it right back to them. It’s just bad. That’s all we talked about all week, because that’s been the difference in this game the last two years.”

Whether it’s putting together long scoring drives, the defense grabbing those interceptions rather than the ball slipping through defenders’ hands, or getting off the field on third-and-long, this team is in desperate need of critical plays at critical times — offensively and defensively.

Follow Sean Manning on Twitter @SeanManning_DP. Email