Holgorsen's motivation battle gets tougher

Getting a team prepared for its next game is easy when it's undefeated in its new conference and No. 5 in the nation.

Doing the same when that team is unranked and coming off a four-game losing streak unlike anything it's ever experienced?

That's a whole new ballgame, but it's the ballgame West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has been forced to play this week as his team prepares for No. 12 Oklahoma to make its first-ever trip to Morgantown, but first of many in the Big 12.

"That’s kind of your goal every week, is to get your guys ready to play and get your guys excited to play," Holgorsen said. "That’s a challenge every week and when you start getting a couple losses on top of one another, that challenge becomes a little bit greater."

The 35-point loss to Texas Tech on the road Oct. 13 turned heads across the country, but was a sign of things to come, rather than a speed bump in an otherwise-smooth season. Kansas State rolled into Morgantown and over the Mountaineers by 41 points a week later.

Two weeks after that, a pair of gutsy TCU play calls in double overtime ripped the Mountaineers' hearts out, aided by a defensive lapse and a 94-yard touchdown in the final minutes to force the first overtime.

Last week's trip to Oklahoma State had the same result. Another loss, this one by 21 points. A one-time Big 12 front-runner, led by the Heisman front-runner, has been reduced to irrelevance on the national stage, locked outside the top 25 in a season already branded a disappointment by most pundits.

"You start to lean on some of your seniors at this point to finish the year strong, and then we’re still fighting for the same thing that we were a week ago, that we were a couple weeks ago, which is to try to get better each week, try to win the game and try to improve your bowl status and figure out why we play this game that we love," Holgorsen said.

The frustration's been evident with quarterback Geno Smith, who had a dream start to the season, racking up 25 touchdown passes on 273 pass attempts before his first interception.

Still, Smith is the team's leader and tasked with helping Holgorsen rally the squad.

"I think we’re fine. Not happy. Still motivated, but our approach last week was good," Holgorsen said. "Our effort last week was good. I expect it to be the same way this week. It better be. We’ve got a good top-10 team coming to Morgantown on national TV. We’ve got to play good."

Holgorsen liked his team's preparation and effort last week against Oklahoma State. The results just weren't there against a better team.

They haven't been there for Smith, either. The quarterback completed 72.4 percent of his passes longer than 15 yards in his first four games before a road victory at Texas.

Since then, he's completed just 16.3 percent of those passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There's no time for the Mountaineers to feel sorry for themselves, though. Those losses have rendered a game that at one point looked like a de facto Big 12 title game into an opportunity for West Virginia to spring an upset that could get its season back on track.

"They’ve had it circled for a while now because OU is such a storied program over the past 100 years," Holgorsen said. "They have tremendous history that they’ve been able to accomplish with championships and all that. I think a lot of people are going to want to come in and watch the game."