MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's offensive line was dominated at Cincinnati, stalling the run game and bringing focus back to the line of scrimmage two weeks out from the Backyard Brawl.
"None of them played good enough to win. We'll leave it at that and they need to get better," said coach Dana Holgorsen on Monday.
The best run defense in the Big East Conference held the Mountaineers to 32 rushing yards and quarterback Geno Smith was sacked five times for a loss of 27 yards. In the first series Smith was sacked for a loss of 8 and hurried into two passes that fell incomplete.
"They're challenging us. We're challenging ourselves," said right guard Tyler Rader. "All of us are sick the way we played. It was awful. We can't let that happen again. Geno got hit way too many times. What, five sacks? That's inexcusable. Can't happen."
The team has two weeks to prepare for Pitt's pass rush. The Backyard Brawl will be played at 7 p.m. Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving.
Pitt is ranked No. 5 nationally in sacks with 32 and is anchored on the defensive line by end Brandon Lindsey and nose tackle Aaron Donald, who leads the conference with nine sacks and ranks third in tackles for loss with 12.5.
"It means we've got to get better. We sat in here and dealt with what Syracuse did. They did all these crazy blitzes. Just the opposite happened at Cincinnati," Holgorsen said. "They didn't bring any, and it was still a challenge. We've got to block better, finish blocks better. Got to find a bunch more guys. Are we calling them out? We're talking to them. We love them, want them to get better. We'll get them healed up, put them in a position to be successful."
Rader said Pitt's defensive line is impressive.
"I haven't watched any game film, but from what I've seen they're big guys, move well, and are athletic."
Two key Big East games will be played Saturday while West Virginia is off: Connecticut-Louisville and Rutgers-Cincinnati.
Will the Mountaineers be scoreboard watching?
No, said Holgorsen. "You worry about what you can control. ... I may be a fan and watch a couple games. Not going to be dissecting it, or cheering loudly. You worry about what you can control."
Said linebacker Doug Rigg: "Yeah, I'm not going to just pay attention to the Big East, there's other games I want to watch. Of course I'm going to check scores, see what's going on."
Four players have had concussions in the past two weeks, Holgorsen said, adding the off week comes at a good time to allow healing. He declined to give specifics, but one of those players is safety Terence Garvin.
The off week will provide more time on the recruiting trail for the coaching staff.
Asked whether the message to recruits will change based on when West Virginia actually begins play in the Big 12 Holgorsen said: "It will eventually. It's tough now, just tough. We're going to be headed there at some point. Don't know when. Whether it's next year, or the next year, or the next year. The challenge of being in the Big 12, [includes] recruiting, facilities, that's going to take time. Ask me that five years from now and I'll have a better answer."
It won't, however, change the target recruiting areas dramatically.
"Where we're at from a geographical standpoint you've still got to take care of your backyard," said Holgorsen. "What's made West Virginia a great program is the neighboring states and Florida. Then we'll branch out into Texas which we already have."
Holgorsen said remarks by Smith Saturday about the officiating in the Cincinnati game were inappropriate. The Mountaineers were flagged 14 times, a season-high in a game that included six reviews.
Smith basically said the team has been getting bad calls all season and that while he won't use it as an excuse, Saturday was among the worst and it is "getting out of hand at this point."
"I found out he said that about 30 minutes ago. His job is to ignore referees. I said ignore them, don't talk to them. He needs to listen and not do it," Holgorsen said. "My job is to communicate with the referees. I do think the Big East Conference -- they do as good a job as anywhere I've been as far as communication. They do a great job of communicating. Whether we agree with the calls or not it's not our place. What's he going to do? Say sorry, or pick up the flag? Move on. Get past it. Our job to get past it."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959.