Conversations From The Car

Although the onside kick has been analyzed from every angle and debated by every coach, player and fan who was at last Saturday's game, I have to weigh in with my two cents about what happened.

What I saw was a confused Louisville return team which really had no idea which way to run or what play to make. The kick caught the Cardinals completely by surprise, and trying to make a determination as to whether a certain player was trying to catch a ball or could have caught a ball is virtually impossible.

I am not going to publicly state that it was definitely the correct call, because truthfully I am not positive it was. But the fact that the Big East Conference issued a statement that a wrong call was made makes me further believe that the ruling was indeed the correct one.

If the call was erroneous, however, then all I can say is, "Louisville, welcome to the Big East." It may have been the first poor call that goes against them, but it certainly won't be the last. Just ask the teams that have played in the league for a while.

As for Coach Petrino's reaction to the call, my philosophy is that a team should never put itself in a position where one call could cause it to lose the game. This is especially true of last Saturday's game.

Anyone who watched the action knows that the Cardinals dominated the contest for more than three quarters, and WVU's late comeback could have been avoided if the visitors had simply picked up a first down on offense or made one stop on defense. Petrino should be concerned at the monumental collapse that his team suffered, not about one questionable call that could have gone either way.

On the other sideline, Rich Rodriguez needs to be given a great deal of credit. Just three short weeks ago fans were booing him when he was calling timeouts late in the game against Virginia Tech with his team deep in a hole.

Rodriguez was furious about those boo-birds, and even went as far as to state that, "Those fans must be living in a different world. We teach our players to play to the final whistle."

Many of the media members in attendance at that postgame press conference, and certainly a large number of fans listening to the comments on the radio, responded with a roll of the eyes to the coach's words.

Last weekend, though, his point was proven. His players have learned to keep playing no matter what the scoreboard reads, and if they had not had that attitude instilled in them all season long, the result of last Saturday's battle for Big East supremacy could have been very different.

Another member of the Mountaineer staff that has perhaps been overlooked in this game, but definitely deserves a great deal of credit, is director of strength and conditioning Mike Barwis. Play-calling, determination and momentum had a lot to do with the outcome of the Louisville game, but so did conditioning.

West Virginia may not have made much of an impact on the scoreboard in the early going, but what it did accomplish was to continually deliver punishment both on offense and defense. By the time the fourth quarter arrived, Louisville was worn down and on its heels, while the Mountaineers looked as fresh as ever. If the rest of the season goes as planned, Barwis, Autumn Speck, Chris Allen and the rest of the strength staff will be able to proudly wear their Big East Championship rings, knowing that they played a major part in earning them.

We as fans, reporters and just general observers do need to remember, though, that a championship has not been won yet. A lot can happen in four games, especially to an extremely young team which has to go on the road for two of those games and host an old rival in another one of the four.

South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Pitt may not have the most impressive résumés in college football right now, but they have all proven that they can play solid football at times. None of these games will be pushovers. West Virginia not only took the title of Big East favorites away from the Cardinals with the triple overtime win, it also took the big bull's eye off Louisville's backs and stitched it onto its own jerseys.

The Mountaineers are now the team to beat, and they must play their best to keep that from happening.

With that said I have to admit that I, unlike most WVU fans I have talked to, am fully satisfied with where West Virginia stands in the major polls.

I do think that wins on the road against Maryland and at home against Louisville would be considered solid victories for any program, and I believe that West Virginia has proven it belongs among the country's top 20. But it has not yet proven it deserves to be any higher.

If the men wearing gold and blue can win out they will continue to move up, not because of all the e-mails that WVU fans send out, but because they deserve it. As I mentioned above, there are a few traps along the way, and if West Virginia can clear those hurdles then it probably belongs among the elite teams in the country.

The number that all Mountaineer fans need to be focused on is the No. 12 spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings. If West Virginia can take care of business between now and Nov. 24, it should be among those 12 teams, and that is all that will really matter at that point. That ranking is the average that teams have to achieve over a rolling four-year windo to maintain automatic BCS eligibility.

If the Mountaineers still believe they should be higher after the final regular season polls are released, they will have a perfect chance to prove it in a BCS bowl game. The national perception of the WVU program now rests in West Virginia's own hands.

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