MORGANTOWN - The last time West Virginia's football team enjoyed a week off the Mountaineers took it a bit too far.They apparently enjoyed the idle time so much they decided to stretch it into another week.How else to explain that coming off a bye week West Virginia lost its first game to a team that has done absolutely nothing else this season to distinguish itself? The fact is, save for that 49-23 rout of West Virginia, Syracuse is otherwise 2-4 in its last six games and could easily be 0-6 were it not for a blown officials' call in a game against Toledo and a last-ditch field goal at Tulane.Yet WVU had two weeks to prepare for the Orange and still laid a monumental egg.
Preparation? Flaws in off-week plans and activities? Too much practice or too little practice?Coach Dana Holgorsen has gone over all of those possibilities in his mind, and he hasn't come up with any light-bulb-over-the-head revelations."I think we have a pretty good plan. We've done it the same way for 10 years and it's been relatively successful,'' Holgorsen said Monday. "But doing it the same way we did it four weeks ago and going to Syracuse and getting blown out, yeah, it made me rethink some things.''What did he come up with?"We'll treat it relatively similar to the last one,'' Holgorsen said. "Hopefully the outcome will not be the same. We'll talk a lot about that this week.''The truth is, there aren't a lot of different ways that coaches handle off weeks. There's a formula and every coach on the planet pretty much follows it. You practice enough to stay sharp and physical, you lift weights and you take an extra day or two off to heal. Most coaches will spend a little extra time scrimmaging young players who aren't playing in games, and they'll go recruiting. Then when game week rolls around you get back into the routine.That's what West Virginia will do between now and the day after Thanksgiving, when the Mountaineers host Pitt in what could be the last Backyard Brawl in the foreseeable future. ESPN on Monday decided to make it a night game, the kickoff coming at 7 p.m."We've talked about it. What can we do different? What can we change?'' Holgorsen said. "And from a scheduling standpoint we couldn't come up with anything. We'll do it the same way. We'll just try to approach what we've got to do to get our guys ready to play a little differently.''Actually, that might be taken care of already.Let's face it, the last time West Virginia had that open date it was leading up to the start of the meat of the Big East season. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 11, had a 1-0 league mark after blowing out Connecticut and were about to play a two-touchdown underdog.Sure, there was the whole Schwartzwalder Trophy and all that, but let's face it, when was the last time you heard anyone talk about wanting the keep the Schwartzwalder Trophy?
Things are entirely different now. West Virginia is barely ranked in the coaches' poll (No. 23) and in need of help just to share the Big East title, much less win it and earn the league's BCS bowl berth. One would hope there would be a sense of urgency in that alone.But it's also the Backyard Brawl. It's Pitt week. Well, actually it's two Pitt weeks, which could be a detriment. After all, there's something to be said for having too much time to prepare and to get yourself worked up in a lather over a rivalry game."Yeah, it can happen,'' Holgorsen said. "It can definitely happen.''Then again, if it is played right, having two weeks to prepare can't be a bad thing. It was against Syracuse, in part because there was no real excitement value in playing the Orange and it was two weeks of just going through the motions.This time there's a carrot at the end of the stick and at least from a focus and mental standpoint there shouldn't be too much the coaching staff has to do in order to maintain enthusiasm."Yeah, I would assume that will take care of itself,'' Holgorsen said. "Just the fact that it's the Backyard Brawl, it's 7 o'clock at night, it's in Morgantown. You'd think that will take care of it as opposed to playing a road game and playing Syracuse. But I don't know. Obviously we weren't ready to play that game and I take full responsibility for that.
"I would hope they'll be ready to go. They should be. I would be.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org