Cult Of Personality

In a contradiction of the expected, West Virginia seemed far more jovial and relaxed about the Pinstripe Bowl match-up with Syracuse than did the Orange during team interviews Wednesday night.

The Mountaineers – from players to coaches to team dress – appeared primed and eager to face a team that has beaten it in consecutive games, the last time a 49-23 drubbing. Part of that seems obvious. As offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson noted, "if I got beat twice by somebody, I'd want to play, too." Part of it is simply the personality differences between the two respective head coaches. Dana Holgorsen doesn't often appear, especially in the lead-ups to games following wins, to be especially pressed or concerned about much. He preps his team, and when he feels it's ready, there really isn't much else to get too involved with – including media questions.

In another example, for the media interviews Holgorsen's team dressed in warm-up gear, a relaxed set of blue pants and tops. Some players, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey included, wore Yankee ski caps (commonly called ‘toboggans' in West Virginia), and no player seemed particularly formal with the media. Syracuse's Doug Marrone, meanwhile, stood and watched his players take media questions. And Morrone, like his players, wore a full suit, with jacket, tie and matching slacks. And the Orange players, quarterback Ryan Nassib, especially, were very formal and courteous – and perhaps a bit guarded – with answers to media.

West Virginia's Smith, meanwhile, was so unguarded that he told the media what Holgorsen didn't: That Jeff Braun would start at center while Pat Edger, the back-up behind Braun, would slide into his vacated right guard slot. When told that Smith had revealed what Holgorsen said he knew and the media should try to find out, Holgorsen just smiled at Dawson. It was only a slightly smaller smile than when Holgorsen ended his press comments by noting that the ballroom WVU practiced in was only "slightly smaller than our indoor practice facility."

When few from the media seemed to grasp the joke, and the sledgehammer of a hint that Holgorsen knows the IPF is too small, the head coach said ‘Did nobody get that? Nobody got that joke?' There was nothing of the sort from Marrone, who is typically all business in his approach and dealings with his team and media. What, if anything, does this mean when translated into on-field performance? Not much, in the physical sense. Players can only do that of which they are capable. But a team mentality of playing loose, having fun and enjoying the game and all that leads to it served West Virginia well in the Orange Bowl, and it should help keep the Mountaineers from panicking early if Syracuse jumps ahead.

If one has to guesstimate which team felt more pressure to win the game, it wouldn't be the team on a two-game losing streak to the other. It wouldn't be the team badly beaten in the last series game. It wouldn't be the team from the better conference that played a better schedule. But perhaps Syracuse should feel more pressure. It's the team that has won five of six, not lost five of seven. It's in a quite familiar bowl in a quite familiar state. And one might argue it is far happier to be in the Pinstripe than is WVU. Smith said as much at one point, noting he wanted to be somewhere warm rather than cold.

There will certainly be detractors that believe the players, coaches and staff should approach each game quite seriously, and maintain an all-business style, rather than business-first, then play. Both approaches have worked in the college game, and sometimes those approaches clash in head-to-head match-ups, like Miami-Penn State in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl and Colorado-Notre Dame in the 1994 Fiesta. Both approaches have proved incredibly successful and, at times, shockingly disappointing.

Many fans and pundits thought the Mountaineers, with their jet skiing accidents, their relaxed, enjoy-yourself style, had no chance against Clemson last season. West Virginia responded with a bowl record for points scored with 70, while the Tigers folded at the half in losing in embarrassing fashion. There's certainly a clear-cut difference in styles in this match-up, and in the only game in which the two programs, under their current head coaches, have played, Syracuse was clearly better. But there have been staff, player and schematic switches since. So much has changed that, really, there isn't much point trying to dissect last year's regular season meeting to glean any insights as to this year's play.

But one thing is certain: The teams are taking on the personality and approach and style of their head coach. Whether one believes that to be a positive or negative is all personal viewpoint.


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