CHARLESTON (AP) — Enough about West Virginia’s brutal October. Coach Dana Holgorsen only wants to think about getting his players ready for a finishing stretch that still has some importance.
The Mountaineers (3-4, 0-4 Big 12) must win three of their remaining five games to become bowl eligible, starting with Saturday at home against Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4).
Plagued by a sputtering offense and a defense hit by injuries, West Virginia lost to No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 12 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Baylor and No. 5 TCU last month. Only one of those was by single digits.
Holgorsen doesn’t think it will get much easier against Texas Tech. Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the nation with 3,336 passing yards.
“The one thing I’ve warned our team is we’re not going to get caught up in buying into the notion that the hard part is over,” Holgorsen said Tuesday. “The hard part’s not over. There’s five games ahead of us that are all going to be challenging. We’re in a Power 5 conference. There’s good teams in Power 5 conferences.”
After Texas Tech, the Mountaineers face Texas, Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State. Texas Tech is West Virginia’s only remaining opponent with a winning record.
The only way to a winning conference record would be a 5-0 finish by the Mountaineers. It might even help Holgorsen win back some fans who have been highly critical of him lately.
Holgorsen has gone 11-20 in the Big 12 since the Mountaineers entered the conference in 2012. The school’s president and athletic director have said they’ll wait until after the season before passing judgment on the fifth-year coach’s performance.
“We’re not going to worry about where we’ve been,” Holgorsen said. “We haven’t thought about it. There’s nothing we can do about the schedule. We’re not going to use it as an excuse.”
Excuses aside, quarterback Skyler Howard has completed just 48 percent of his passes and has nine turnovers during the losing streak. He’s relied a lot on long throws, and several passes were dropped in Thursday’s 40-10 loss to TCU, including some that would have been touchdowns.
“The ball comes to you, you catch it,” Holgorsen said. “It wasn’t one person. It was four different people. So those four will have other opportunities and they will execute that better.”
The lone bright spot on offense in Big 12 play has been running back Wendell Smallwood, who is closing in on a 1,000-yard season. But Holgorsen would like to establish his running game earlier and hinted that he may change around his offensive line this week.
He’d also like to get more production from backup running back Rushel Shell, who’s averaged 33 rushing yards in the past three games and ran for 110 yards against Texas Tech a year ago.
“He needs to get going,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve challenged him before and he’s responded. Wendell right now is playing really, really well. (Shell) needs to be the complement to that and have the confidence in himself to take advantage of whatever opportunities that he’s got.”
There hasn’t been a ton of results, either, out of a patchwork secondary that allowed nine touchdown passes and back-to-back 380-yard passing performances against Baylor and TCU. Those challenges figure to continue against Mahomes, who threw for 480 yards and four touchdowns in a 70-53 loss to Oklahoma State last week.
“We’ve got to get those guys ready to go,” Holgorsen said. “When these backups have opportunities to go out there and play, no one cares if they’re young and inexperienced or on scholarship. Get out there and play.”