A cold and windy day in Orlando provided the backdrop for West Virginia's preparations for Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl against N.C. State
On a day more fitting for the windswept tundra than Florida, West Virginia conducted its final full practice in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl on Sunday. The looming structure didn't provide any shelter from a howling wind that blew for most of the day, and hampered kicking and passing drills for the Mountaineers. The raw conditions affected every ball in the air, holding up anything that tried to buck the prevailing wind direction.
The wind was so strong that head coach Bill Stewart ordered video staff on lifts around the field to limit their height in order to avoid being toppled. With the tragedy of a similar event at a Notre Dame practice earlier this year, the WVU staff was taking no chances in the conditions.
Despite the knifing wind, some players didn't don a great deal of additional protection, although others were clad in extra undergear to protect against the cold. Also popular was the taping of earholes on helmets to keep the wind at bay. Work was conducted in shorts and shell pads, as is typical for a practice two days before a game.
Scooter Berry knows what Josh Taylor is thinking. Or at least, he has a pretty good idea. Berry, who missed last year's Gator Bowl after an academic misstep, sympathized with Taylor, who suffered the same consequences for a similar misstake this year, and didn't travel with the team to Orlando.
"I know how he's feeling, missing everything down here and not being with everyone," Berry said. "But at the same time, it's a chance to learn and not make the same mistake again. I know what I felt like last year, missing out. I haven't talked to him since we've been down here, but I hope he's able to use it as a learning lesson like I did and come back next year ready to go."
Bowl games always offer a series of "lasts" for the seniors on the team. Last practice. Last team meeting. Last road trip. Last position meetings. Last game. Those items can't be the focus for the team preparing for the game, but they are in the back of everyone's mind, including the coaches. While head coach Bill Stewart took the time to praise the seniors for their place in Mountaineer history, he wasn't ready to dwell on the "lasts" just yet.
"I told them to hustle up, and they said it was the same old Stewart," he said of his pre-practice comments to the team. "I don't want to talk about it now with them, because I hate it. We'll talk about it tomorrow night at our team meetings."
Give outgoing offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen credit. He appeared for a requested interview prior to WVU's last media availability prior to the game, even though he certainly didn't have to.
Need one key item for the game? From the head coach down through the defensive staff, the focus is on limiting the Wolfpack on first down. The goal, which isn't all that different from many games, is to get N.C. State "off schedule" -- that is, in second and long and third and long situations, where down and distance help dictate play calls. The thing the WVU staff fears most is allowing State to get into an offensive rhythm and develop lengthy drives.
Of course, that's been a key for West Virginia's defense this year, but it is the number one priority for this game.
The majority of the media covering West Virginia for the game didn't put in an appearance until the Dec. 26th practice session.
Pat Miller appeared to take most of the reps with the first team secondary during open practice periods.
Despite being viewed as the little brother to the bigger and more publicized Capital One Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl has done a good job of providing activities for both WVU and N.C. State. West Virginia has also set up more visits to local attractions for its team and support staff than ever before. In addition to trips to Universal Studios, DisneyQuest, SeaWorld, Best Buy and local malls, team and staff dinners have been regular occurrences during the five days in Orlando.
One thing that does need work, however, is the practice facilities made available to the teams. While Alabama and Michigan State get to practice at local high schools, WVU and N.C. State were limited to the fields outside the Citrus Bowl, which offered nothing in the way of facilities. Surely there are two more high schools in Orlando that could host practices for the teams.
Both schools will get their chance to test the new AstroTurf in the Citrus Bowl at a walk-through on Monday.