After a game in which the Mountaineers looked on the verge of getting blown out, then blowing someone out, and then holding on for dear life at the end, the men from Morgantown flew home tied for second in the Big East with the Backyard Brawl staring them straight in the face.
An opportunity to tie for the lead in the conference, for a team that started 1-4, would have been unthinkable a month ago. Now it verges on the sublime. A few observations from a beautiful fall Saturday.
Chachi Hales gets the first nod this week. While many naysayers were out in full force this week when Rasheed Marshall was diagnosed with a concussion and pronounced out for the week, many on the Mountaineer football team just smiled a knowing smile.
Charles Hales comes to play. And if he isn't the most confident player on this football team, he sure hides it well. One look at Chachi is a dead giveaway to a man spilling over with confidence. One wonders whether he'd grab the first man on the offense who didn't believe the Mountaineers would win, and jerk them off the field personally.
Hales gets the second nod this week as well. His 11-16 effort for 167 yards and three touchdowns was spectacular. The only thing more spectacular was the man on the receiving end of two of the three scores. But we'll get to that. For a man to come into a hostile environment and start his first ballgame, and have stats like that, and commit no turnovers is simply a thing of beauty. He will be quickly overshadowed by larger statted performances this week, but his was easily the most impressive.
Another emerging star in the gold and blue is Chris Henry. Fact of the matter is, there isn't a single corner in the conference, maybe the country, who can stop this man. Period. The media will focus all week talking about Larry Fitzgerald and his consecutive scoring streak. What they won't focus on is the Mountaineer receiver who will end up being even better. Henry is wide open as soon as he steps on the field. And both of WVU quarterbacks are having a great time feeding him the deep ball.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, I can't wait to hear all the pregame hype this week. Pitt is in the conference drivers seat. They control their own destiny. Walt Harris says they have the best QB in the nation. Walt Harris says they have the best wide receiver in the nation. Walt Harris says they had, before his injury, the best tailback in the nation. Heck, the bulletin board was full for this game before ESPN even picked up the game and moved it to 7 p.m.
Something tells me, however, that we will be hearing a lot of Pac Man sound bytes on Saturday.
Speaking of Pac Man, I am not surprised that he intercepted a pass for a touchdown. I am also not surprised that he returned a kick for a touchdown. I am surprised that it took this long into the season for it to happen. And I am really surprised that teams continue to kick to him.
On second thought, I wouldn't want to kick the ball to a six-foot one, 240 pound tailback either.
I will chime in with my first pre-game wet blanket of my illustrious career. Folks, lets keep it under control this weekend in Morgantown. We can certainly prove to the country that we can throw a big party without showing everyone how to be a bad host. There is no pre-written rule that says you have to tear up the entire countryside after a big win. Do me a favor. Eat, drink, party. Have a big time. Have the Backyard Brawl 2003 make the Tech game from two weeks ago look like a day care field trip. But act like you've been there before.
Don't throw things at people. Don't start fights with opposing fans. Don't curse at children. Don't damage cars just because they are from that cesspool north of the border. Stand up the entire game. Yell your freaking heads off. Leave the game hoarse, tired and with a sore throat. Play a role in the game. Be the 12th man. And stay in the stands after the game, and sing "Country Roads" with the team.
If you want to really know how I feel about this ACC thing, think about this: I rooted for Pitt to beat Virginia Tech on Saturday. And I can honestly say I have never rooted for Pitt to win anything in my life. But there I was openly cheering for the media darlings from Steel Town. My nine year old son even asked me what if we were in Bizarro World. I did have to wash my mouth out with barley and hops to get over that feeling.
Just so you know, if ESPN Gameday doesn't come to Morgantown this week, it won't be because of what happened after the Tech game. It will be because of what happened during the Cincinnati game. If the Mountaineers hadn't blown that game, Mountaineer Field would be hosting Chris Fowler and the two overpaid dingdongs they employ as analysts on Gameday.
Touchdown Tory Johnson. It is a wonder why defenses even bother to cover our tight ends in pass patterns. It isn't because our tight ends can't catch. And it isn't because we won't throw to them. But Chris Henry is five yards open on every play. And so is Travis Garvin.
If I were a defensive coordinator, as soon at the Mountaineers throw their 16th pass of the game, I'd send all my cornerbacks to the sidelines and replace them with linebackers. Sometimes I wonder if, even then, Rich would audible into a pass play. I can honestly say that I scratch my head when I see the Mountaineers audible into a running play off-tackle right, when both safeties are lined up within two yards of the ball. But we are winning, so I'll just shut up now.
The only thing that disappoints me about the game being moved to 7 p.m. is that it was picked up by ESPN2 and not ESPN. That means that we won't have Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried. Those two are by far the best in the college business. And we haven't had them for a long time.
I'll say it now. Rasheed Marshall or Charles Hales. It doesn't matter. Both great kids. Both great leaders. Either will lead the U to a win over Pitt on Saturday.