Late Saturday night, somewhere inside Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Stedman Bailey stood, tired, deflated and searching for ways to explain the fall of the West Virginia football team this season.
Ten yards to his right, Geno Smith fielded the same questions; a few minutes before him Tavon Austin did the same.
A month ago this team was in the hunt for a championship.
Today, after four consecutive Big 12 Conference losses, it is a team forced to dramatically redefine its goals.
"Well, we just want to make sure we get in a bowl game," Bailey said. "We'd be very disappointed if we weren't and we won't let that happen. That's our goal now, to at least get into a bowl game and finish the season strong."
And there it is: West Virginia is now desperately trying to qualify for a bowl game. A reality that would have elicited cries of lunacy if suggested a mere month ago.
"Everybody is heartbroken right now," Austin said. "There wasn't [anything] said in the locker room today."
Players appeared heavy hearted and seemed to be searching for answers following the latest loss, 55-34, at Oklahoma State -- a winnable game save for multiple special teams gaffes.
West Virginia hadn't lost four in a row since former coach Rich Rodriguez's first year in Morgantown in 2001.
Problems on defense, offense and now special teams have reared.
Bailey said there is a shred of truth to effort being an issue at times this year.
"With all the preseason hype I felt very good about this year," Bailey said. "I mean, you know these past couple of weeks things haven't been falling for us. ... Well, in some cases effort was questioned. That's things that we can fix. That's something you can't coach. That's something in the player."
Asked to describe what he meant, Bailey said: "Sometimes our demeanor, when I'm looking from the sidelines, sometimes I see things, it's just crazy. Some of the plays, it's just crazy."
Smith, who at one point was a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, was also left searching.
"It's a tough loss. We've lost [four] in a row. We can't find a way to win, we're finding ways to lose," he said. "Somehow, someway we have to bounce back. We have three weeks left and we have to pick ourselves up and get up and get back to work."
They will do so without freshman receiver Travares Copeland, who left the team this week for personal reasons.
It is unclear if receiver Ivan McCartney will be moving forward with the team, as well. McCartney, a junior, was not in Stillwater with the team and no team sources would confirm his whereabouts. He was high school teammates with Bailey and Smith at Miramar High School in Miami.
"I would say it is a distraction because somebody to leave a team in the middle of the season, that's not good at all. We don't need [any] dead weight on the team. That's not going to come out and help us win or just bring energy to the team. We've got to move forward without those guys," Bailey said.
Bailey said he did not know what McCartney's status was. When asked if McCartney was injured, coach Dana Holgorsen said "No."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959. First Published November 12, 2012 5:00 AM