New Experience

What West Virginia doesn't know might help it the most versus Pitt in the Backyard Brawl Thanksgiving night.

The No. 13 Mountaineers start four key freshmen on offense, including quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. That's four players who have never played in the Brawl, and thus four players who are surprisingly settled.

"I'm not sure what it's like because I was not on the field for a game," White said. "Alabama-Auburn is a big one where I come from."

Where first-year Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt has heavily recruited his native western Pennsylvania, WVU has gotten away from some of its traditional recruiting areas, namely New Jersey and Ohio, since fifth-year head coach Rich Rodriguez was hired.

Rodriguez was an assistant at Tulane and Clemson, and his recruiting roots reach deeper into the south than former WVU coach Don Nehlen, an Ohio native who coached at Michigan and used his midwestern ties. Half of Rodriguez's assistants also coached in the south.

That equates to more players from those areas - 19 from the deep south and others from California and Arizona - on the roster than ever before.

"A lot of these guys don't know what it is like," West Virginia holder and state native George Shehl said. "I am trying to tell them it's like any other game. It's not, but we want to keep it like that."

West Virginia must also ensure Pitt's players, many of whom were raised watching the Brawl each year, aren't more prepared. Wannstedt said he has some surprises to prepare his team, including past players speaking to current ones about the game's significance. Compare that with the approach of Rodriguez, who also grew up in and played for West Virginia.

"Hey, I just want to beat Pitt because it's Pitt," he said. "But some of our guys are so young that they are just worried about getting to the next meeting, the next practice. I think it's working well for them. They have focus."

So much so that Slaton, an eastern Pennsylvania recruit, had to be told about the contest.

"This just comes into play now because I am a Mountaineer. Other than that, I am removed a bit," he said. "I played in a big rivalry game in high school and I can kind of understand. The veterans tell me it is a big rivalry game."

Especially since the teams will play on national television Thanksgiving night for the foreseeable future. Pitt (5-5, 4-2 Big East) will also try to spoil WVU's bid for an outright Big East championship, not to mention its senior night. The Mountaineers (8-1, 5-0) will graduate 18 players.

"I will walk out there knowing it's my last time on that field," Mike Lorello said. "It will be the same for the rest of the seniors. Hopefully, the young guys feed off that." Maybe the message is getting through.

"The coaches have talked about it a bit," White said. "We don't like them and they don't like us."

The teams have split the past eight games, with the visiting team winning 11 of the past 18. Pitt won 16-13 last season to snap WVU's two-game streak.

"They talk about it being a great game and taking great pride in it," center Dan Mozes said. "There is deep feeling in every one of these games we play. You always hear people saying that you just have to beat Pitt."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories