Mountaineers might be traveling light
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen might pull an unorthodox move to make sure his team plays like one Saturday in the must-win game at Cincinnati.
He just might cut the travel roster. By as many as 15-20 players.
Mired in a slump of two losses in the past three games -- a stretch that has jeopardized the Mountaineers' season -- Holgorsen said he might only bring the players who demonstrate they want to play as a team.
"We may go to Cincinnati with 55 guys. But 55 guys are going who are going to want to play together," he said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.
- Game: West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) at No. 23 Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0), Paul Brown Stadium.
- When: Noon, Saturday.
- TV: TBD.
- Left: Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers have been outscored, 45-28, in the second half of the past two games.
"I'm pretty serious about it. I tend to say what's on my mind. That makes some people mad, gives other people a kick.
"We're going to take who wants to win. Who wants to pull for their teammates ... Not guys who pout and mope. We're going to be a united team."
The team usually travels with 70 to 75 players.
To be clear, Holgorsen first took responsibility for not motivating the team properly in losses against Syracuse and Louisville.
The losses have dropped West Virginia to 6-3 overall, and 2-2 in the Big East Conference.
"It doesn't really matter who we line up against, it's going to be a challenge," said Holgorsen. "We've got to find a way to motivate our guys better than we did last week.
"We've got to have guys step up and do what it takes to get the victory."
He cited the effort he has seen when reviewing video of Cincinnati -- a team that has come from behind to win three times in a six-game win streak.
"Cincinnati is a team that has found ways to win," said Holgorsen. "They've been in a bunch of close games. The one thing that stands out is the amount of effort they play with. When you play with that kind of effort, good things happen."
West Virginia showed a similar effort in its win at Rutgers two weeks ago, using a late touchdown by quarterback Geno Smith on a snow-covered turf. But against Louisville -- it was only apparent in spurts.
At some point, Holgorsen admitted, the leaders in the locker room need to inspire the other players.
"It's not my team. It's their team.
"We do our best to organize it in a way we put it out there and put them in a position to play," said Holgorsen. "But it's really about how they play. We talk about it all the time.
"We're all in this together. We've got to have guys who have enough invested in the program who step up, give their absolute best. What leaders do? They pinpoint guys who aren't buying in and they slap them around."
Smith said he is all for it.
"I stand behind whatever he says. He evaluates everything including me," said Smith. "If I'm not giving effort, he'll leave me behind. That's just the way we handle things around here."
Defensive tackle Julian Miller said he understands what his coach means.
"I can see where he is coming from. Some games we're ready to play, but we don't show it," said Miller. "Offense is ready. Defense is ready. Special teams is ready. Now, is the team ready? You had a lot of guys last year who were big rowdy guys who would get the team really hyped up.
"This year, you've got different guys speaking up at different times. There's nothing wrong with it, but the feeling, the atmosphere is just not the same as it was before. I think that's what coach Holgorsen wants us to do a better job at."
West Virginia theoretically still can win the Big East, however unlikely the scenario may be. It starts with a win at Cincinnati.
"It's the Big East. Anything could happen," said defensive end Bruce Irvin. "Guys probably said to themselves it's over. ... The biggest thing is letting these young guys know it's not over."
The pressure has built on West Virginia's defense since the loss last week against Louisville, when it could not get a key stop in a fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Despite special teams problems giving Louisville a shorter field than usual, Holgorsen said it is no excuse.
"I don't care what the situation is. Your job is to go out there and stop people," said Holgorsen.
"The two times we shanked the punts, they still had to go 55 and 65 yards. That's not a tremendously short field. You keep looking for excuses, you won't get any better.
"There are plenty of ways to spin anything in football. I don't buy any of that."
First Published November 9, 2011 12:04 am