WVU offense ready to regroup
MORGANTOWN - After what was without question its worst showing of the 2012 season coming last week against Texas Tech, the West Virginia offense is looking to get back to doing what it had done better than perhaps any college football team in the country prior to that game - lighting up scoreboards and winning football games.
The Mountaineers scored just 14 points against the Red Raiders and were held to 408 total yards - 275 through the air and 133 on the ground. While that was a bitter pill to swallow, WVU quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Geno Smith said the team has moved on and is ready to get back to what it does best against Kansas State on Saturday.
"I believe we can put up a lot of points but I know it's not going to be easy," Smith said Tuesday during the players' interview session. "Those guys have a great defense. They're very experienced so we've got to make sure we're all on the same page and come out confident and ready to ball."
Texas Tech's defense entered the game against West Virginia as one of the top-ranked units in the country against the pass and proved why in limiting Smith and the rest of the vaunted Mountaineer passing attack to their worst statistical performance this season.
While this was the first loss for the 2012 Mountaineers, the older players on the WVU roster have tasted defeat in the past. Offensive lineman Jeff Braun said that the sky was not falling and he is confident the leaders in the locker room can provide some insight to the younger players about moving on.
"We have a good routine, especially the older guys," Braun said. "We've gone through this before. As much as you don't want to go through it you know how to handle these situations and move on."
West Virginia fell from the top end of most polls with the loss to Texas Tech, but the move to the Big 12 this season provides something not always possible during the program's time in the Big East - a chance for almost immediate retribution.
K-State will enter Milan Puskar Stadium as the No. 4 team in the first Bowl Championship Series rankings and provides West Virginia with the opportunity to bounce back in to the conversation for not only a conference championship but potentially the chance to play for a national championship at the end of the season.
The Wildcats stand alone atop the Big 12 table as the lone undefeated team in a conference where only one team - Kansas at 1-5 - has an overall losing record. A win against such a highly regarded team could provide the springboard to get WVU back into the national title picture as one of the best one-loss teams in the nation.
"That's the thing about the Big 12 - every team is even," Smith said. "It really comes down to who wants it more. You can see it with Oklahoma State from last year. They won it and lose two players and now they're in the middle of the pack. It's one of those leagues where everyone is good. It's not one of those situations where you can go in every game and walk over somebody. You're going to have to grind it out. We learned our lesson from this past Saturday. We understand what we've got ourselves into and we're going to prepare as hard as we can."
The WVU offense could be without one of its top playmakers when it takes the field Saturday. Receiver Stedman Bailey, who leads the nation in touchdown receptions with 14, is day-to-day with an ankle injury. In his place, freshman Travares Copeland is expected to get his first start.
Copeland had been told he was going to redshirt this season but said he was the "just in case" guy that could fill in if the need arises. It has, and Copeland, who played quarterback at Treasure Coast High School in Florida and saw his first game action for WVU against Texas Tech, said he is ready for the opportunity.
"I just want to play. I came here to play," he said. "I didn't know [he would start] until I saw the depth chart at the meeting. I'm still going to go out and practice hard, learn and be coachable."
Smith said the freshman has made strides at practice in recent weeks and that he expects him to be fine under the lights on national television this weekend.
"He's always been good," Smith said. "Copeland's a guy that's really been improving the last few weeks so the coaches figured why not put him in."
Conventional wisdom might lead one to believe playing an inexperienced freshman in a vital role on one of the nation's best offensive units coming off its worst showing of the season could prove problematic, but Smith said there is no change in the team's mentality despite the loss to the Red Raiders and the potential loss of Bailey against K-State.
"We've always had the same mentality and we're not going to let one loss have us lose sight of what we are, and that's a good team," he said. "We had a bad game but days like that happen."
While the West Virginia offense appears to have put the Texas Tech game in the past and has said it is ready to move on, there is still the minor detail of combating the Kansas State defense.
K-State has been one of the stronger defensive units in the Big 12 so far this season, allowing 16.5 points and 342.2 yards per game. The Mountaineers know they're in for a fight Saturday but do have the advantage of playing at home under lights in front of a frenzied Mountaineer Field crowd.
Smith, however, said the opponent, time, location and the television cameras do not matter to him. He just wants to get back on the field and the team back to its winning ways.
"I'm looking forward to another opportunity to play," he said. "I block those things out of my mind. I could care less about where we play or what time it is. When we step on that field and the whistle is blown we've got a job to do and that's the only thing I worry about."
In K-State's win earlier this season against Oklahoma, the Wildcats were able to put pressure on Sooner quarterback Landry Jones with the occasional blitz in addition to a standard pass rush. That pressure forced Jones into throwing an interception and fumbling a ball that was returned for a touchdown by the Wildcats' Jarell Childs.
"They're a physical group and they're assignment sound," Braun said. "They love to hit you in the mouth. Their linebackers are very good - some of the best we've seen - so I expect them to play hard."
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.