COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Other than the anticipation for a big game with a lot at stake -–say, a conference championship tilt or a contest against a traditional rival – there’s probably not much more excitement built for a game than for a season opener. The ills of last season are gone, coaches tend to lean toward positive reports, hype videos and posts from the ever-growing staff responsible for such flood out of digital editing systems and keyboards. There’s more than normal tie allotted for the build-up. Optimism abounds.
Some of that is human nature, of course. Before there’s much actual data to look at and evaluate, the tendency is to fall back on feelings and emotions – the bedrock that fans have in the connections to their teams. Things have to be better this year, right? All those inexperienced freshmen and sophomores are going to be salty juniors with lots of swag. The ball, which bounced negatively last year, is going to be in the good guys’ favor this season. Mistakes of commission and omission aren’t going to occur. Then, unfortunately, for half of the teams involved, those things don’t coalesce.
As covered extensively over the past couple of days, West Virginia’s self-inflicted mistakes were the biggest reason for its disheartening 30-24 loss to Maryland. Pick just a couple to eliminate, and the Mountaineers would have come home with a win instead of an 0-1 record. That probably, in some ways, makes the loss even worse knowing that enough positives for a team were in place to produce a winning effort, but that they weren’t utilized effectively enough.
Put all of that together, and the disappointment and frustration for fans whose teams didn’t get that win in week one is perhaps among the worst of the season. It’s like being towed up that first big hill of the roller coaster, only to find that the anticipated thrill at the top has been replaced by a flat, straight stretch of track.
Of course, fans have the option of getting away from everything to deal with the disappointment. The teams do not. The way in which they respond to it could set a tone for the remainder of the year.
“Obviously this loss will bring the team together. You have to battle adversity, come back to work next week and handle business on Saturday,” said receiver Winston Wright, Jr., who set a WVU single-game record for kickoff return yardage but also had a fumble of a punt in the game.
WVU head coach Neal Brown also understands the situation.
“I know our fanbase is going to be disappointed, and I get that, that’s fair,” he said immediately following the game, his demeanor echoing that of many in gold and blue. “It’s fair for them to be upset, it’s fair for the criticism, but as a football team, we’ve got to continue to get better. We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to respond. We’ve got an 11 game season left. We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve still got a lot to play for.”
WVU will be aided in that effort by the presence of an opponent, Long Island, which should offer little in terms of a threat to win the game, and in some ways that might be good. There’s no question, that after putting a good bit of emotion into breaking its losing road streak, which has now stretched to five games, that the Mountaineers are down. A bit of success is always a good tonic. But deep down, they’ll know that a win in the next game is something of a foregone conclusion and that the real test in recovery will come in the following game against Virginia Tech. And even then, will that have enough of a punch to recover from the one WVU received in College Park?
“It is hard,” Wright said of bouncing back from the huge letdown that losing an opener brings. “But it will bring the leaders together and get the whole team back together, so I feel like it can be a positive thing.”
As one of those leaders, he’ll be responsible for helping find a way to do just that, and he’s quite correct in his approach. He’s just as right with his assessment that it will be difficult.