After a 52-31 trouncing of the Pitt Panthers, the obvious question on the minds of those who follow the Blue and Gold is whether or not there will be a letdown as the Mountaineers head to New York for a Saturday afternoon tilt with Syracuse.

West Virginia has won five straight, including big wins over Virginia Tech and Pitt, but it has struggled on the road at times this season, is still on an emotional high after last Saturday's triumph, and is hitting the road to face a Syracuse team that has the weapons to play with anybody. This has to be the perfect setup for a letdown, but Rich Rodriguez fully expects his team to be ready to play.

"We have a lot at stake," explained Rodriguez. "That should help us stay focused. We have the Big East title at stake, a great bowl game is at stake, and we haven't beaten Syracuse in the dome in 10 years. Just look at their scores and how well they have played at home this year. They have played really well. Most of them haven't even been close. I think our guys know that it is going to be a battle, and they will be ready."

Nobody on this Mountaineer team has ever left the Carrier Dome with a win. In fact, most of the West Virginia seniors were somewhere around 12 years old the last time a WVU team brought the Schwartzwalder Trophy home from New York in 1993. The dome has certainly not been kind to the Blue and Gold, but the Mountaineer players promise that they are not thinking about the past.

"I think the team right now is focused on what we can do to win the game," said senior cornerback Lance Frazier. "We are not into the whole Carrier Dome thing and how many times we have lost there in the last 10 years. We are focused on winning the Big East and we are going to take that one day at a time."

It may not be the focus for this WVU squad, but it is certainly on the minds of fans and coaches. In its last four trips to Syracuse, West Virginia has been outscored 116-30 by the Orangemen and has played some of its worst games in the oversized airplane hanger. Just what has been the problem for the Blue and Gold?

"I have no clue," admitted a perplexed Frazier. "A couple of years back it was a close game and we had an opportunity to win, we just didn't execute at the end of the game. That was one of our worst years too, so we weren't the best football team at the time either. I think it has been something different every time."

Senior running back Quincy Wilson agrees.

"We have run into some good teams up there," explained the Weirton native. "I know my freshman year we went up there and we were playing great. The next thing you know, they scored 24 on us. In Coach Rod's first year they beat us when we were still on a high after the Rutgers game. It has been different circumstances, but this year is unique. We are coming in on a roll. We have played some tough road games and done well, so this is another hostile game for us to go up there and conquer."

Although the Mountaineers do not want to make any excuses for their past struggles in New York, there is no denying the fact that the Carrier Dome presents some unique challenges for visiting teams. The Orangemen have won nearly 100 games at home since the facility opened in 1980 and the impressive record is no fluke.

"Obviously (the Orangemen) are more comfortable with the surroundings than anyone else," explained Coach Rod. "It is just something different. Most teams play outside, on a crowned field, where they have to deal with the elements. The Carrier Dome is loud, it is a flat surface, and anytime you play indoors it is going to be different."

For Rodriguez's star running back, the Carrier Dome is just another field, and another hostile environment.

"It is a different comfort level when you are at home and you can count on the crowd to pick you up," said Quincy Wilson. "They are used to that turf, and they usually play great there. It is just another dome, the problem is that guys are just not used to it. They have played outdoors for their whole life, and they have to go up there and play in a dome. They are looking around, they get a little googly eyed, and it can lull them to sleep. To me, it is just another place. I think of it as BC with a roof. I've been trying to warn some of the guys, especially the wideouts. It's a different sight adjustment in making some catches. I'm sure once we have our practice up there on Friday and they get a chance to run around and see that it is just a normal place, we should be alright."

"I really think the noise is the only big factor when you play in a dome," added the senior known as Weirton Steel. "The crowd is right on top of you so you hear everything that they are saying and they are usually making plays to keep the crowd into the game. Our biggest thing is just to go out there and jump on them early to get the crowd out of it. That will be half the battle right there."

Rodriguez is also well aware of the problems that can arise as a result of the noise, and is planning on trying to create a similar environment this week as the Mountaineers prepare for the high noon showdown with the Orangemen.

"We are going to have to pipe some noise into our indoor building to get used to it," said Rodriguez. "Our quarterback and some of our guys have some experience in that atmosphere, but what you worry about are the ones that have never experienced it. All you can do is prepare the best you can and hope they keep their poise on Saturday."

The noise is certainly the biggest concern, but the field itself may also be a factor in this Big East clash. The Carrier Dome playing surface is the old style Astroturf that is becoming a thing of the past in college football with the advent of less abrasive synthetic surfaces. This will be only the second time that the Blue and Gold has seen the older style of turf, one that is better suited for cleaning dishes than playing football, and it is a bigger difference than many realize.

"Playing on turf is something that we're not used to," explained Lance Frazier. "You have to really concentrate on your footing on the turf, especially playing corner. It is a lot faster, and sometimes it takes time to get used to it."

Obviously, the Mountaineers have a great deal to overcome if they expect to extend their winning streak and remain in the hunt for the Big East crown, but the focus should not waver. With the conference race still far from over, West Virginia certainly cannot afford a letdown at any point. A win would also keep the Schwartzwalder Trophy, presented each year to the winner of the Syracuse-West Virginia game in honor of Ben Schwartzwalder who played at WVU and coached at Syracuse, in Morgantown, but that is apparently the least of the worries for the Mountaineers.

"I really don't know the significance behind that trophy," admitted Frazier, "but since we have it, I guess we want to keep it."

And that is exactly what the Blue and Gold plan on doing.

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