MORGANTOWN - Being picked to win the Big East Conference before a single game was played put a huge target on the back of the West Virginia University football team.
Two teams have already taken successful aim and hit the bull's eye in taking the Mountaineers down.
"When they say you're supposed to be the Big East favorite, then we have to go out and match (the opponent's) enthusiasm," WVU defensive lineman Julian Miller said. "We haven't done that for all four quarters. That's what has haunted us."
The Inter-Mountain photo by John Wickline
West Virginia’s Tavon Austin leaps over Louisville defensive back Mike Evans (33) to snare one of his seven catches on the day. Austin had 90 yards in pass receptions and another 20 in rushing in WVU’s 38-35 loss Saturday.
WVU, 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big East, finds itself tied for fourth with Connecticut and Pittsburgh after the Mountaineers fell 38-35 to Louisville. The team that leads the conference, Cincinnati, will host West Virginia at noon Saturday in a game that will be broadcast on ABC. The Bearcats bring a 7-1 overall record and a 3-0 conference mark into the game.
"There is a reason Cincinnati is first in the league," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said Sunday. "They are playing with tremendous energy and confidence. Things tend to go your way when you play that way."
Holgorsen illustrated his point by saying Cincinnati rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Louisville earlier this season. WVU was tied with Louisville at the half, and "in the locker room, it looked like we were losing," he said.
Holgorsen said the players are not showing the emotion and excitement he expects from college football players. He said he has repeatedly addressed the issue with coaches and players as he tries to get them working in the same direction.
"Right now, that just doesn't exist," he said.
Linebacker Najee Goode said the team needs to develop consistency, saying it can "play great when we put our minds to it.
"We need to find out what is keeping us from playing four quarters of football," he said. "We have to play collectively better as a defense, instead of just in spurts. Great championship teams don't mess up like that."
A 5-2 record in the Big East has taken the title in past years, and quarterback Geno Smith said WVU can only move forward.
"We have to come back and grind it out," he said. "Everyone has to pull together to win the last three. We are definitely not doing what it takes to win. We have to fight, no more negativity. We have to develop a knack to win at all costs."