MORGANTOWN — West Virginia defensive end Sean Martin is not a man of many words, but he captured the Mountaineers’ current mood quite well speaking to the media on Monday.
“We lost two games in a row, two games we should’ve won,” he said. “Nobody’s really happy right now.”
WVU (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) has lost two games in a row in despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in both contests. The Mountaineers started the season 4-1, but now sit at 4-3 and are trending in the wrong direction.
“There’s a small margin for error in the Big 12,” head coach Neal Brown said. “We could be 6-1, but we’re sitting here at 4-3. We’ve had leads in the fourth quarter the last two weeks and we haven’t finished.”
In the days since losing 48-34 to Oklahoma State last Saturday, the Mountaineers have diagnosed their problems as being mainly self-inflicted. They’ve determined the cure is simply getting back to playing three-phase football.
“All we can do is stick together and make sure we’re all on the same page defensively and offensively,” offensive lineman Doug Nester said. “We need to become a cohesive group, start playing complimentary football and just help each other out as much as we can.”
It’s complimentary football that WVU has been missing the last two weeks. In the 41-39 loss to Houston, WVU’s offense scored a go-ahead touchdown with 12 seconds left, but the defense gave up a Hail Mary to lose. Against OSU, the defense forced a punt with WVU leading 24-20 in the fourth quarter, but special teams turned the ball over, setting up the Cowboys’ go-ahead score.
“We just need to be compatible between offense and defense,” receiver Preston Fox stressed. “If the defense makes a stop, we’ve got to go down and score on offense, that’s just how it needs to be.”
“It comes down to just a few key plays,” Nester added. “It’s always such a close game and then it’s who can make the more critical plays during those times.”
The Mountaineers take on a team facing a similar issue this week in UCF (3-4, 0-4) this Saturday in Orlando, Fla. (noon/FS1). The Knights have lost four games in a row, the latest being a valiant 31-29 defeat to No. 6 Oklahoma.
“Both teams need a win,” Brown said. “They’re coming off of one of their better performances.”
UCF has had its own self-inflicted struggles this season. The Knights blew a 28-point lead to Baylor in a 36-35 loss last month and then gave up nearly 400 rushing yards to Kansas before falling to the Sooners last week.
The Knights after still searching for their first-ever Big 12 win, being one of four teams who joined the conference this offseason.
“You knew from top to bottom, there were some really good teams (in the Big 12) and I think you’re seeing that,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “You’ve got to play good football to win whether you’re on the road or at home.”
UCF was better against the run against Oklahoma, allowing 189 yards, but Malzahn expects they’ll need to be even better against run-heavy West Virginia.
“They’re number seven in the country on time of possession,” Malzahn stated. “They run the football, they get off the field and they’re good on third down.
“We’ve got to just continue to grow stopping the run with the integrity of our run fits. We did get better, we took a step up, but we’ve still got areas to improve on, still got things we can do better.”
On the other side, the Mountaineers want to continue what they’ve been doing, they just want to make sure they actually close out games when they’re leading.
“We’ve got to continue to put ourselves in a position to win in the fourth quarter and then you’ve got to be able to close out games,” Brown said. “That’s what this league comes down to. That’s what it’s going to be like on Saturday, that’s what it’s going to be like for the rest of the games we play this year.”
“We’ve just got to focus on the little things, focus on us,” Martin said. “We beat ourselves so if we focus on us, we’ll be successful.”