Teacher vs. pupil in UC opener
Thanks to a quirk in the schedule, the Mountain East Conference’s version of teacher vs. pupil didn’t happen in 2013.
It won’t take long to get that matchup underway this year.
After not playing last year, Charleston and West Virginia Wesleyan will begin the 2014 slate against each other with a 1 p.m. kickoff scheduled for Saturday in Buckhannon.
The matchup will pit second-year Bobcats coach George Shehl against his former team. Shehl served as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach from 2011-2012 under current UC coach Pat Kirkland.
“I like to think I hire guys that have ambitions to continue to do well, and most of these guys I think want to become head coaches,” Kirkland said. “George is a guy that was very organized and very structured, I knew that being a head coach was his ultimate goal and I’m very happy for him.”
Shehl has since switched his emphasis from defense to offense, but his defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at Wesleyan, Todd Nelson, served as the defensive line coach at UC in 2012, so plenty of the Golden Eagles’ concepts can be seen on that side of the ball as well.
“Their defense is exactly what we did two years ago, it’s the same,” Kirkland said of Wesleyan. “Now, Coach Shehl played under [former WVU and current Arizona coach] Rich [Rodriguez] and I think he took a lot of what he did on the offensive side of the ball.”
Whether the familiarity is an advantage for either side is debatable, although Kirkland said if it favors either side it will favor the Bobcats slightly.
“For them, it’s an advantage because I’ve never been with that staff,” Kirkland said. “George knows me and knows that I’m pretty much a creature of habit, so they probably have a better understanding of what they’re up against than we do.”
Although he added, “I’d like to think we’ve made some adjustments and become more multiple than when he was here.”
While not playing a conference opponent one year and then opening the season with that opponent the next season is hardly a normal practice, if anyone is used to odd scheduling, it’s Kirkland and the Golden Eagles.
Consider only five of UC’s 11 games this year will be at home. Last year, only four out of the Eagles’ 11 games were played at University of Charleston Stadium.
While the Golden Eagles got six home games in 2012, they had to endure a block of four straight road contests leading up to the season finale. A 14-10 loss at Glenville State eventually knocked UC out of a share of the then-West Virginia Conference title.
“The scheduling when we moved to the Mountain East is really weird,” Kirkland said. “You happen to see a team you didn’t play the year before in the first game the following year? I’ve never seen that before, but it’s the same way for both teams.”
And then there are the perils of opening up with a conference game, especially on the road, leaving no margin for error right out of the gate.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal,” Kirkland said. “We’re blessed to be in the city of Charleston and have a great stadium and tremendous community support, and anytime you’re not at home and you’ve got to travel there will be issues.”
Aside from the surrounding story lines, Kirkland believes his team is making great strides as the Wesleyan game plan has been slowly implemented this week.
“A lot of it is we are really putting an emphasis on our game plan for Wesleyan,” Kirkland said. “The install is in, now we’re taking the playbook and really focusing on the things we plan on doing and seeing on September 6th. It’s the first game and no one has a crystal ball, they could’ve changed what they’re doing with their personnel and scheme-wise — hopefully we can stay healthy because we’ve got some guys that are beat up and haven’t practiced in a long time.”
UC is also preparing for who Kirkland called “the best player in the conference” in senior Wesleyan quarterback Jeremy Musselman, who threw for 2,490 yards and 20 touchdowns last season as the Bobcats finished at 5-5 overall and 5-4 in the league.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @RPritt on twitter.