Enivronmental Concerns

West Virginia will take a youthful team into what head coach Rich Rodriguez calls the "most different environment in the country."

"You wouldn't worry about it so much with a veteran team," Rodriguez said. "But with a young team it does some, because it's more different than playing any away game, including Penn State or Florida State. It's even different than the Superdome because it is so much smaller. The lighting, the closeness to the fans, the crowd noise there. It's just very different."

West Virginia hasn't had much success at Syracuse, going 4-8 all-time in the 50,000-seat Carrier Dome. But those losses -- including four in a row from 1993-2003 -- were more the result of lesser talent than an overwhelming environment.

It's not that Syracuse has the loudest, or even most intelligent, fans in the country. It is that their air-filled structure is such a stark contrast with every other road trip.

"It's loud in there, sometimes even when you're on defense," Rodriguez said, highlighting the over-enthusiasm of Orange fans. "Communication is very important and tough at Syracuse, especially when you have young guys."

And because West Virginia's youth movement will play such a key -- the entire offensive system, from running to throwing and kicking -- it has focused on non-verbal cues. The Mountaineers have piped crowd noise and loud music into recent practices, and have worked every potential game scenario to prep first-time starters for their initial road trip.

The drills have focused heavily on potential game-changing plays and how to react. WVU ran through onside kicks from different formations, field goal blocks from behind and in front of the line, last-second field goals, and possession changes and getting back onto the field with an organized plan.

"You just hope you've taught them well and go from there," said Rodriguez, who has clamored for an NCAA-mandated preseason game like the NFL. "I think all clubs go through first-game jitters at every level. But especially this year, we coaches have to remember to stay calm, because with so many first-year players, they will be nervous enough for everybody. I don't want them to feel more pressure because of us."

The Mountaineers have also simplified the game plan and maintained a back-to-basics approach throughout camp. The test will be if West Virginia achieved its needed balance of not overwhelming players, but maintaining a varied enough attack to prevent Syracuse from keying on one aspect and slowing the entire offense.

"You can oversimplify as well," Rodriguez said. "You don't want to be just looking at each other not knowing what to do if we get stopped."

West Virginia will spend a couple practice days in the Caperton Indoor Facility. Rodriguez has said he does not like the abrasive turf and smaller size. The turf will not be an issue at Syracuse, because the Orange replaced the Carrier Dome's Astroturf with Field Turf.

"I just hope we don't make any crucial, critical mistakes early in the game and dig a hole," Rodriguez said. "If we can just relax and settle down to get through the emotional early part of it, we will be fine. It will be a really high-charged, electric atmosphere that we come out in. If I didn't have to coach, it would be a real fun game to watch."

RIFLE REPORTS

Rodriguez again reiterated that WVU has co-starters at quarterback and other positions.

"I don't think it is important who takes the first snap," Rodriguez said. "It's my philosophy that it doesn't matter. It's just a personal thing. If two guys are good enough to win with and to play, then he plays. If not, he doesn't. They both can play and both will play."

The fifth-year coach said the recent practices have triggered earlier memories of working with Rasheed Marshall and Brad Lewis and using Woody Dantzler and Brandon Streeter at Clemson.

"It is almost like the old days," Rodriguez said. "I have really enjoyed these last few weeks as much as I have any in a long time. We focused on fundamentals and working with young quarterbacks and I especially enjoyed and trying to get them ready."

Both Adam Bednarik and Pat White were regaled as the right type of guys for possible platoon play. Their maturity, unselfishness and ability to handle constant media questions have impressed Rodriguez enough that he doesn't worry about repercussions.

"You have to have the right type of guy," Rodriguez said. "It has to be a guy that is not selfish. Adam and Pat are like that. Both want to start. Who would not want to take the majority of snaps and play? If you are a competitive guy you'll want to do that. But they are team guys first."

Rodriguez also tested WVU's offense in fall drills to ensure that when switching quarterbacks, even on consecutive series' that it operated smoothly.

"I have never alternated as much on the first team with two guys as I have these two," Rodriguez said. "I did that to see if it had any affect on the offense. It didn't have any, and that's why I am comfortable."

* * *

WVU elects 12 players -- from all classes -- to be members of the "Apostles," a leadership group that proves guidance to other players. Freshman kicker Pat McAfee and quarterback J.R. House were named members.

Rodriguez would not list the entire group. McAfee is the first kicker to be honored, and the 25-year-old House is the oldest freshman to receive membership.

The seniors also recently visited Rodriguez's house, a traditional way to start the season.

"It's an opportunity for the team to get to bond a bit," Rodriguez said. "You get so busy as a student-athlete that you don't get a chance to enjoy it and reflect. It is important for them to have that.

"Some, like Mike Lorello, don't want to talk about it being their senior year. They are so sad because they want to keep playing. A lot of times they talk about what it was like when they were recruited, and how much bigger, stronger and smarter they are now."

* * *

Receiver Dewayne Thompson is questionable for Syracuse. he will be a game-time decision. WVU will be at full strength elsewhere barring any additional injuries.

Jason Colson and Pernell Williams will start in the backfield. Vaughn Rivers and Darius Reynaud will split time at one slot receiver position.

* * *

The Mountaineers will go through a 4 p.m. walkthrough at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. They will not see the facility before then.

"We'll go out and make sure the field is 100 yards long, 53 yards wide and the goal posts are 10 feet high and then play," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez...

On opening with a conference game:

"Everything is intensified. I think whoever you play in the first game you will be excited. But your first goal is to win the conference. It is like that every year with most teams, and that's our goal every year. You start with that and it makes the stakes that much higher. But because it is just the first game, all is not lost if we don't play well and don't win. I hope we grow up in a hurry and can do it. I mean, last time we opened with a conference game on the road it was not very good (lost at BC). You'd rather be at home.

"I remember the first game at Glenville. We had 500 people there, and I was related to 490 of them. We got a standing ovation when we got a first down. I thought I would never leave. The expectations were just right.

"Heck, the practices were closed just because you could not get there. I figured if you got there, you deserved to watch practice. But I had the same feelings them as I do now for opening games. It's still fun.

On Hurricane Katrina affecting WVU's coaches and players from that area:

"We talked to a lot of guys last night. They were lucky that it was not a direct hit. They got a pretty good shot, though. There was a lot of damage. Some have contacted their parents and some have not. I remember once we hosted Navy at there was the threat of a hurricane. Where it normally took me 35-40 minutes to get home, I sat in traffic for 2 1/2 hours after the game. It was wall-to-wall with everybody heading out toward Baton Rouge. They had stuff packed on cars like furniture and things. We stayed and our neighbor's helped board up the house. All we got was a little rain and a bit of rain. We got lucky. They said if it ever got hit directly it would be a mess."


BlueGoldNews Top Stories