Ever have a dream and then a month or so later you’re in a situation that you feel like you’ve been in before, maybe recall that dream? You could have sworn you’ve been there before, but just couldn’t place it.
For the West Virginia University football team and its fan base, its a recurring dream.
In 2012, it was a different time and a different place.
West Virginia was riding the wave of crushing Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl and set to make a splash in the Big 12 Conference behind Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
The Mountaineers started fast out of the gate beating Maryland and Baylor at home, then followed that up with a win in Austin, Texas.
As the story goes, that’s where the wheels fell off.
WVU would finished the 2012 season 2-6, after starting 5-0. They capped off a disappointing second half of the season with a loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
2013 wasn’t much better for the Mountaineers. In fact, it was a nightmare.
The team struggled against William & Mary at home and lost to Kansas and Iowa State, finishing the season at 4-8.
In 2014, West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck wanted to see improvement. He didn’t set a benchmark for a number of wins, but improvement was needed across the board.
This is what he told ESPN back in June.
“What I certainly want to see,” Luck told ESPN.com this week, “and I think I’m speaking for a large portion of our fans – is improvement in our competitiveness, our ability to move the ball, our ability to stop the ball, all aspects of the game.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about improvement. I want to see us play harder, play meaner, play smarter and be more competitive.”Luck said.
Holgorsen moved Tony Gibson to defensive coordinator and added long time defensive mind and former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to the defensive staff.
With a solid staff already in place on offense, this had the makings of a great staff on both sides of the ball.
The 2014 version of the Mountaineers entered with a new found confidence with some swag to go with it.
It’s safe to say that Luck certainly saw improvement when the Mountaineers opened the 2014 season in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against Alabama, and the progress continued through the first half of the season.
The Mountaineers were sitting at 6-2, coming off a upset of No. 4 Baylor and in the mix for the Big 12 Championship. They we’re once again a player in the college football landscape.
Dana Holgorsen was being talked about as a Coach of the Year candidate. Clint Trickett was one of the most improved players in college football. And ESPN College Gameday came to Morgantown for the TCU game.
Then, just like in previous years, the wheels came off.
Since that 6-2 start, the Mountaineers have lost three straight and finish the regular season next weekend at Iowa State.
WVU is coming off a 26-20 loss to No. 12 on Thursday that you could describe as ugly.
“This is a tough team to beat and you can’t make mistakes and we had way too many of them tonight,” Dana Holgorsen said.
“Offense was awful, defense was average.”
And Holgorsen is right.
The offense was awful and has been painful to watch over the last few weeks, while the defense has made improvements.
On this night, the Mountaineer defense held Kansas State to 1 yard rushing, but they have up 400 yards passing to a quarterback who isn’t a threat to beat you with his arm.
Now the bad news.
Over the last three seasons, the Mountaineers football record after October 1 is 8-15 and they’re 2-9 in the month of November.
Dana Holgorsen is 2-9 vs ranked opponents in his last 11 games.
And now back to Oliver Luck.
“I think Dana has done a good job, but clearly, the results last year didn’t meet the expectations both he has and his staff has and certainly I have and our fan base has,” Luck said. “It is a transition going into a new conference; there’s no question about that. I think people understand that. But they also don’t want to hear that as an excuse, and they’re absolutely right in that regard. Every year is important with the cycles nowadays, and this is certainly an important year for him.”
The question now becomes – Has Dana Holgorsen shown improvement?
When you ask the question, you often get a mixed bag of yes and no, with a few Rich Rod thoughts thrown in.
Holgorsen has shown improvement with a team that nobody expected to compete against Alabama. Nobody expected them to beat No. 4 Baylor. And they didn’t expect this team to start out 6-2.
But they also didn’t expect to see a team that can’t field punts, can’t get into the right offense play at times, conservative playing and ugly offensive football.
They ugly part you can’t credit Holgorsen for saying.
Where the team has improved is in recruiting.
The Mountaineers had a solid 2014 cycle and 2015 looks just as good on paper, but we’ll get to that in the coming months.
Holgorsen must now get the ship moving in the right direction and take care of business in Ames, Iowa with his starting quarterback possibly out with a concussion.
For a fan base that’s already restless, 7-5 or 8-5 sounds much better than 6-6 or 6-7.
Maybe it’s not that Holgorsen hasn’t improved, but maybe the other coaches have.
Even Luck might have a hard him escaping that question.