MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When West Virginia popped open the hood of its offense this spring to begin an offseason overhaul, it tinkered with the engine, rebuilt the transmission and forgot, it seems, to replace the clutch.
The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3), still searching for their offensive nucleus, were minutes away from playing spoiler Saturday in at Milan Puskar Stadium but couldn't put No. 16 Texas Tech away despite holding a double-digit second-half lead in this Big 12 Conference showdown.
"We had it in the bag," junior receiver Kevin White said. "We were up and all we had to do was finish."
The Red Raiders (7-0, 4-0) won, 37-27, and sit atop the conference standings.
West Virginia, in the eyes of coach Dana Holgorsen, didn't have the killer instinct.
"We started feeling pretty good about ourselves mid-third quarter when the game wasn't over," Holgorsen said. "We refused to make a play on offense, defense or special teams in the last quarter and a half. We refused to coach well enough to be able to win the game."
What went wrong?
"I don't know," Holgorsen said. "They probably played harder than we did. They probably called better plays."
In a 20-minute stretch spanning nearly the entire second and third quarters, the Mountaineers scored on five consecutive drives for a total of 27 points. In that time, the defense surrendered just a field goal.
But a slow start and a worse finish doomed West Virginia; Texas Tech scored the first 13 points and the final 21 points of the game.
Redshirt junior Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers offense had their chances in the fourth quarter with the lead still within reach, but four of their final five drives went three-and-out.
"When you end the game with three three-and-outs, I think everyone would agree it's as bad as it could possibly get offensively," Holgorsen said.
After flying over and through the Red Raiders defense for 408 offensive yards through the first three quarters, West Virginia managed just 29 yards in a do-or-die fourth.
"We just completely froze up at the end," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "When it got tough, we went three-and-out."
"We scared 'em early," Holgorsen said. "They kept their safeties back a lot in the second half and we were unable to block man on man. It's discouraging, disheartening."
The clutch component wasn't absent only on the offensive side of the ball.
After 40 minutes of stout defense, West Virginia buckled, allowing scoring drives of 80, 84 and 69 yards in the final 20 minutes.
The defense forced just one turnover, a goal-line fumble in the second quarter, and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson counted three potential interceptions that bounced through the hands of Mountaineers defenders.
"We put ourselves in position and then let it slip away," Patterson said.
Holgorsen willingly shouldered some blame, too, for a first-quarter decision to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-14 instead of attempting a 43-yard field goal at the tail end of a 12-play, 63-yard drive.
West Virginia trailed, 10-0, at the time and Holgorsen felt the offense was moving the ball well enough to warrant the gamble and figured it was going to be a shootout in which "touchdowns were going to be important." Trickett's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
"I do regret that decision," Holgorsen said. "We should have kicked it."wvusports
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM