Tunnel Vision

While excitement for the Backyard Brawl is building quickly in Mountaineer Nation, it has been business as usual for head coach Rich Rodriguez and his team as they prepare to host the Panthers on Thanksgiving night.

"We know it's a big game for both teams and the fans, but I'm pleased with way our team has focused one each game this year," Rodriguez said. "We have not been overhyping anything, and have been staying focused on playing one game.

"I haven't noticed much difference in our practices preparing for Pitt than for any of our other games," the Grant Town, W. Va. native continued. "I think our team has prepared pretty much the same all year, and that's pleasing to the coaches. It's something that you usually see from a veteran team, but this team has done that all year."

Contributing to that mindset is West Virginia's approach in practice and preparation since the Cincinnati game. While the Panthers have reportedly been adding a few motivational items to their on-field sessions, the Mountaineers have run the same tried-and-true procedures.

"Our practice schedule and approach have been the same," Rodriguez said. "We didn't make any changes. [Even with the USF game being moved], there's no difference due to schedule change other than fact that you were looking forward to this being the last game."

Although he keeps the one-game-at-a-time mantra above all, Rodriguez also realizes that his team knows there is a lot to play for.

"I've talked to the team a little bit about the Big East championship and the BCS. Our guys are an intelligent group. They know what is at stake. I don't want them pressing or feeling pressure about it. They know how important it is, but they need to go out and have fun and play. Our players know about Pitt and hear about it 365 days per year. I just want us to go out and play well. It's going to be a tough physical ball game, and we will have to play our A game to get a victory."

RIFLE REPORTS

Rodriguez again indicated that Both Pat White and Adam Bednarik could play this week, but did not say that both would see action. That's a different distinction from earlier in the season, when the coach said definitively that both would play during the Mountaineers' early schedule.

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Rodriguez again avoided commenting directly on his experiences as a player in the Backyard Brawl, but did note that it was "always an intense rivalry."

"When I played, it kind of set the tone for the entire season," he said. "All four of my years it was a close competitive ball game."

WVU dropped 17-0 and 16-13 decisions to the Panthers in Rodriguez' first two seasons as a Mountaineer (1981 and 1982), but bounced back with 24-21 and 28-10 wins the next two seasons to give him a 2-2 record as a player. His coaching record against the Panthers also stands at 2-2.

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Although the Panthers struggled early, Rodriguez believes that they will present just as much of a test as any other team on WVU's schedule.

"It's as much of a challenge as any game we've had," he said. "They are playing their best football of the year, and they have talented players. It's a rivalry game. We have a lot of respect for their players and their program."

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Unintentionally or not, Rodriguez made a comment about the game that surely jabbed deep into WVU's rival.

When asked about the significance of the Backyard Brawl, he said, "We have other things riding on [the game], like the Big East Championship and a BCS bowl."


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