Pick out any big play or stop made by the defense this year, and it's almost sure to be accompanied by a celebratory leap and fist pumps or vigorous clapping from the first-year WVU coach. While he's downplayed his jumping ability in the past, the encouragement and support that he shows when his charges play well, and with effort, are just another sign of his commitment to them and to the team. Thus, it's not a surprise to hear him discuss the upcoming game from a defensive perspective.
While many observers are predicting an offensive showdown, Slaughter doesn't see it that way – or even think about it in that manner. As a defensive coach, that's to be expected, but he's also not dropping any statements about "limiting" opponents or stopping drives in any fashion other than with fundamental defensive play.
"I've never gone into a game where it wasn't a defensive mindset, so it doesn't matter to me whether we play indoors or outdoors or what the weather is," Slaughter said in response to questions about the offense's ability to score points. ".My mindset is to play great defense, and I know that's what our players have too. So how do you do that, you play with a tough mindset, you're physical, you run to the football and you keep doing that. We've been doing that and getting better at it, and we are going to keep getting better at it."
Of course, there are going to be cynics who will point out that WVU didn't play well defensively this year. That's a correct observation, but it shouldn't detract from Slaughter's approach to the game, or to his statements about improvements. West Virginia did play better in its final two games of the regular season, although against admittedly lesser opponents, and it now has a chance to show that those good plays weren't just the result of the level of competition. The important thing to focus on here is not snarky commentary about the poor defensive play of the season, but rather on the dedication and infectious enthusiasm of the coach heading the Mountaineer defensive front.
As fits his demeanor, Slaughter was also direct in his answers about West Virginia's bowl practice schedule. He believes the heavy lifting was done prior to the Christmas break, but also admitted the team needed to hit the field on Thursday.
"We got prepared," was his blunt assessment of the pre-bowl schedule. "I think it was great the way it turned out. We had a big ballroom [for the practice on Wednesday] and we were able to run around and work up a sweat. We also did a lot of film work, and we were able to review and correct things without having to stop and interrupt practice to do it. Was that enough? No, we needed [Thursday]. We needed to get out here and run around and hit a little bit and play some football."
"They are a lot alike in that they want guys who are fresh at the end of the year," he said. "The key right now is to be refreshed, both mentally and physically. It's a long grind during the season and it's tough on both their minds and their bodies. If they are beaten down physically they will be beaten down mentally. So right now, to me, you want them up mentally and refreshed physically."
WVU's preparation and practice schedule should have provided that, and now it's on the players and coaches to gear up for their best effort in the Pinstripe Bowl. One thing is for sure – Slaughter will be leading the charge.