Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Banged-up WVU football team battling for bowl eligibility

MORGANTOWN — WVU head coach Neal Brown said he used to use bowl eligibility as motivation toward the end of a season, but the older he gets, the more he realizes it may be a lost cause.

Not because it’s a struggle to get a team at or just below .500 to buy in toward the end of the year, but players know exactly what the situation is.

“With this bunch, we’re just trying to go week to week,” Brown said. “I don’t have to talk to them about it; they know what it is. I just want us to play up to our capabilities, that’s it. We need to play football the way it needs to be played in all three phases. If we do that, (the bowl eligibility) takes care of itself.”

The Mountaineers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) are in that exact spot with three games remaining, battling to become bowl-eligible with six wins, beginning Saturday at Kansas State.

Through nine games, injuries are beginning to mount on both sides of the ball, but it’s the defense that has been hit the hardest. Starting cornerback Nicktroy Fortune missed the last two games with a lower-body injury and will not play again this season, so WVU cannot afford to lose anyone else at that position.

Luckily, after Charles Woods, Fortune’s replacement, went down with an injury against Oklahoma State last Saturday, Brown said it was just cramping issues and he’d be back this week.

The same cannot be said for linebacker Lance Dixon, who Brown said is doubtful after he left last week’s game with an injury. Brown did not disclose exactly what happened to Dixon, but his loss is a tough blow to an already-thin linebacker corps.

One offense, tight end Mike O’Laughlin is in the same boat as Fortune, missing the last two games and is out for the remainder of the season with a lower-body injury.

Wide receiver Isaiah Esdale missed the Oklahoma State game, and his absence was felt. Also serving as the punt returner, Esdale was replaced by Graeson Malashevich, who fumbled a return that was recovered by OSU. The Cowboys eventually scored a touchdown on that drive.

“Esdale will be touch and go,” Brown said. “He’s really dealing with two upper-body injuries. I think it’s too soon (to know his status for KSU). We’ll just have to see how he progresses.”

As for Malashevich, punt returner is still his job if Esdale can’t go.

An intriguing aspect of the final three games is what will Brown decid to do with true-freshman quarterback Goose Crowder? Brown has sung the praises of Crowder most of the season with his work on the scout team and during the “Monday Night Football” scrimmages.

Trying to preserve his redshirt, Crowder has only played in the Long Island game on Sept. 11, so he can play in three more this year and still redshirt.

With the rotation between starter Jarret Doege and backup Garrett Greene, Crowder could sneak in a few reps before season’s end, but Brown hasn’t made up his mind how he wants to handle it.

“I’m excited about him. He had another good night [Monday] in a scrimmage situation,” Brown said. “I’m not saying yes or no. I’m not trying to avoid the question. I’m just not sure just yet.”

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