WVU notebook: Carrier Dome's been friendly to Mountaineers of late
MORGANTOWN - In less than a week, West Virginia will begin the second half of its football season at a place that has generally been good to the Mountaineers in recent years.
Yes, WVU has a losing record at the Carrier Dome (7-8), but that was after starting out 3-8 after the building opened in 1980 (WVU's first game there was in 1981).
Since 2003, however, the Mountaineers are 4-0 against Syracuse in the arena dubbed The Loud House, and most of those games weren't close. West Virginia has averaged 34.5 points in the last four trips there after scoring a total of just 30 in the previous four.
Still, when No. 13 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East) faces Syracuse (4-2, 0-1) in a Friday night game, at least one Mountaineer expects The Loud House to be just that.
"The Carrier Dome is a wild place to play,'' linebacker Najee Goode said. "A lot of people don't recognize that.''
They don't because Syracuse has been bad for so long now. The Orange limped along during much of the past decade with eight straight non-winning seasons from 2002 until last year's 8-5 finish. As a result, attendance at the 49,262-seat dome has dipped and enthusiasm waned. During the 2009-10 school year, attendance at a Syracuse basketball game against Villanova (34,616) was greater than the crowd for a Big East football game with Cincinnati (33,802).
Granted, the basketball crowd was a record for an on-campus game anywhere in the country, but the Carrier Dome's basketball configuration is supposed to seat just 33,000 - 16,000 less than for football. The record attendance at a Syracuse football game in the Carrier Dome remains what it has been since the building opened - 50,564 for a game with Miami (Ohio) in the first game played there.
Still, anything approaching 40,000 in a compact area with a roof is significant, and that can make a difference, Goode said.
"It's loud and all that stuff stays in there,'' Goode said. "And Syracuse has a great fan base. I don't know if people recognize that. I know they've had some down seasons, but when we go there to play them they're loud and they stay the whole game.''
It remains, however, one of Goode's favorite road venues, if for no other reason than a very simple one.
"It's different because no matter what time of year you play them it's always going to be the same weather,'' Goode said. "So that's a plus.''
West Virginia has won five of its first six games by an average of more than 28 points, yet the Mountaineers have trailed at some point in all six games they have played.
Dana Holgorsen bristles, though, at the notion that the Mountaineers are slow starters, even after WVU fell behind Connecticut a week ago and led only 10-9 at halftime before cruising to a 43-16 win.
"Everybody talks about the slow starts. But defensively, I think we started pretty fast. Special-teams-wise, I think we started pretty fast, too,'' said WVU's first-year head coach. "We talked about it all week. The offense went out there and fumbled around a little bit, punted, got beat and, me included, started pressing a little bit. That doesn't mean our team started slow. It means one-third of the team started slow. Our job offensively is to get first downs, and that's it."
There is no question, though, that the offense sometimes takes a while to get going. WVU's worst-scoring quarter this season is the first. The Mountaineers are averaging only 6.2 points in the first 15 minutes and have just four first-quarter touchdowns. They average just under 35 points the rest of the way.
"We just came out flat. We weren't ready to play,'' wide receiver Ivan McCartney said of the Connecticut game. "That's something we have to take care of.''
McCartney did, however, note that when West Virginia's offense gets going, it can demoralize opponents.
"Once we started to punch them in the mouth they got lazy. They didn't want to fight,'' McCartney said of UConn. "But it's been like that in all of the games we've won except Maryland. They didn't quit. Everybody else kind of laid down.''
Perhaps it was Holgorsen's comments about the small crowd for the Bowling Green game. Maybe it was the distinct difference in the weather - rain and temperatures in the 50s one week versus sunshine and 80s the next. Or perhaps it was the caliber of opponent.
More than likely it was a combination of all of those, but the crowd of 56,179 for UConn - an increase of almost 10,000 over the week before - put a smile on Holgorsen's face.
"It was a great environment. It's what we're after,'' Holgorsen said. "The kids hit the field and there was a lot of excitement. It's not for me, I can assure you that.
"It looks like everyone was having a heck of a time out there tailgating and enjoying the weather and enjoying a good product on the field. It was an exciting atmosphere and an exciting environment. I know the 12 recruits that were here had a heck of a time. It all ties in. If you missed it, it's a shame."
Some coaches like using an off week to get some extra work for young players who aren't much of a factor on the current squad but will be needed in coming years.
Holgorsen downplayed that aspect during WVU's off week because those young players are needed on the scout team.
"We do a little bit, but there's still not ample time to do that,'' he said. "Those young guys, for one, we're playing about six of them. Those young guys are so vital to our scout team look that we still use them for that.
"Their time is going to come. The majority of our time right now is to continue to get better at what we're doing in all three phases. It's more important for us offensively to keep timing in practice against specific looks. It's more important for our defense to practice against specific looks to where we can't give each other that. That's what our scout squad is for.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.