ETI: Sugar Bowl Edition

It took them a couple of days to get home and get the printing press set up, but Duke and Jimbo check in with their final review of the year.

Duke: Hello, I'm Duke

Jimbo: And I'm Jimbo.

Duke: In movie "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" the Monarch of the land of Rohan, King Theoden, and one his soldiers have a dramatic exchange. The soldier in a solemn voice says, "Too few [soldiers from other lands] have come; we cannot defeat the armies of Mordor." King Theoden, pausing and collecting his thoughts, responds sternly, "No, we cannot. But, we will meet them in battle nonetheless."

Based upon the national press you had the same feeling going into this game -- that West Virginia had no chance of winning against a superior Georgia team. Heck this was the Big (L)East playing against powerful SEC. They supposedly had better athletes, better starting players, they were deeper at each position, and because it was in Georgia it was essentially a home game. Even before the game you could hear comments how big their linemen were, as if Garin Justice and Travis Garrett had been living on Slim Fast the past year. I loved watching our friend "The Coach", Lee Corso, predict, "Georgia is going to win and win big!" But as in "The Lord of the Rings," the underdog wins!

Jimbo: Duke, I think the key to this victory was that we had better conditioned athletes. In the post game comments center Dan Mozes said, "There's nobody in the nation who could have conditioned like us." Early Monday morning before the game, there were some who were concerned that the practices in fact had been too intense and hoping that we weren't going to leave our best efforts on the practice field.

Duke: Jimbo, another huge factor has been the discipline of this team. Last year we were racking up 100-yard penalty games that normally included two or three unsportsmanlike calls, along with a couple of key movement and holding penalties. Coach Rodriguez's post game remarks were very telling, as he said, "I don't think we had a bust (on offense) all night."

The discipline carried through in other respects as this game mirrored the Maryland game. We took a lead and the opponent charged back to the point where we could have folded. But as in the Maryland game we collected ourselves and were able to kick it back into gear and take the victory.

Jimbo: It was an entire team effort as all three phases held the rope. The defense's stop of Georgia on their first possession was huge and it allowed us to gain momentum. In the past three bowl games our opponent took quick leads which knocked the wind out of us. Kudos, also to the special teams! The key play in the game was the fake punt which sealed the deal against Georgia. Phil Brady appeared to be running faster than Forrest Gump, and his legacy is securely in place.

Duke: Well said, Jimbo. Let's get to the fan mail!

Toss Up!: Which team was more successful, the 1988/1989 Fiesta Bowl team that finished 11-1 (5th AP & 5th USA Today), the 1993/1994 Sugar Bowl team that finished 11-1 (7th AP & 6th USA Today) or the 2005/2006 Sugar Bowl team that finished 11-1 (5th AP & 6th USA Today)?

Jimbo: Well you knew this question was coming! I'd have to say this year's team was the most successful. With the other two teams you had a good idea that they were on the brink of greatness, based upon how the previous season unfolded. This team was given such a small chance to succeed. The victory in the Sugar Bowl to me is the real differentiator.

Duke: Easy Jimbo. This was a tremendous win, but I can see you are being swept up in the euphoria. But if you step back and look at this logically, it has to be the 1989 Fiesta Bowl team. First, while the BCS championship game had not yet been created, the West Virginia-Notre Dame contest was the national championship game. Second, I realize that we played in the 1954 Sugar Bowl, but this was really our first major bowl and it put West Virginia and Coach Nehlen on the map. Third, if you give us a healthy Major Harris, John Stroia, Jim Gray, and Darrell Whitmore we win the Fiesta Bowl. The 1988 team to me will always be the gold standard.

Toss Up!: What was the biggest surprise of the season: Pat White, Steve Slaton, the team chemistry, or maybe a particular unit of the team?

Jimbo: It has to be Steve Slaton. First he was fourth on the depth chart behind Jason Colson, Pernell Williams, and Jason Gwaltney. Heck, he didn't even play in the Maryland game. In our Kick-Off Edition analysis of the running backs I really believed that we had several quality running backs which would prevent anyone from gaining 1,000 yards. I also thought that Jason Colson would get the majority of reps and Pernell Williams would also see considerable action. The amazing thing is that Steve did not see significant action until the end of the fifth game of the season against Virginia Tech where he rushed for 90. Without a doubt, Steve Slaton.

Duke: Jimbo, not bad, but I thought even before the season started that Owen Schmitt and Steve Slaton were the guys. In our Kick-Off Edition we hit the wide receivers pretty hard. Coach Rodriguez even made a coaching change at the wide receiver position by bringing in Coach Butch Jones. Without Chris Henry we didn't have any idea who would step up - if anyone! How could we rely on Brandon Myles with his disappointing 2004? Early in the season before Pat White and Steve Slaton started doing their thing, who made the big plays? I'd suggest that Darius Reynard and Brandon Myles pulled us through some early close games with some big plays that got this ball rolling!

Toss Up!: This has been a great year for WVU sports. Looking back, which win was bigger for their respective program? The basketball team's win over Wake Forest or the football team's win over Georgia?

Jimbo: The win over Georgia was bigger because it finally got the "bowl game" monkey off our backs. The win helps elevate our program into a higher echelon of college football by raising our status with the national media and fans across the country. It also allows our fellow Big East football members to dedicate their time toward things that matter and not having to defend its BCS bid.

Duke: I think Jimbo's answer is always the last game played. I'm going with the basketball team's victory over Wake Forest. Granted we have not done well in bowl games, but we won two consecutive Big East titles, albeit shared, and went to two consecutive Gator Bowls. This season's results are not totally surprising. Going back to our Kick-Off Edition, I thought that, "this may be our strongest team since 1993." The basketball team, on the other hand, had not been in the NCAA tournament since the 1997-98 season and at midseason was 12-7. Fans, including us (let's be honest) were wondering what was going on with the program! The win over Wake Forest not only captured West Virginia fans, but fans and media across the nation, and catapulted us into basketball's elite. The dividends are paying off, as evidenced by our great recruiting class.

Duke: What do have for us today Trivia Boy?

Trivia Boy: Going back to the 1988 team, how many of the starting offensive line can you name?

Duke: Now for the Big Finish!

Duke: This year has truly been an honor to write about. Last year we were stuck in the quagmire of asking, "Where is our ‘A' game" or talking about the adventures of Chris Henry. This year each article has been a smorgasbord of good topics and great performances. A special thanks to all the seniors who showed tremendous leadership this year! You'll be missed.

Jimbo: Right on Duke! Georgia fans were very rude to West Virginia fans. They gave us no chance of winning and they belittled our team and our state. To give you a flavor, the only names that I can repeat in this space are "Little East Conference" and "Mountain Goats".

Duke: Jimbo, not to dwell on any stories, but I was likewise surprised by the Georgia fans.

Once again The Pride of West Virginia showed our opponent what a first rate band looks like. I get the feeling that many fans would go the bowl game just to hear "The Pride" play Simple Gifts, Almost Heaven, and the Fight Song in the pre-game. Great job to the Pride and in particular to Jay Drury who did a first rate job as the Band Director!

Jimbo: Trivia Boy, let me think, Rick Phillips, Brian Smider, John Stroia, Bob Kovach, and the center was Kevin Koken! I even remember a couple of the backups -- Brian Hendricks and Jack Linn.

Trivia Boy: Wow! Way to end the season strong Jimbo!

Jimbo: As I have said before Trivia Boy, keep them coming! As you know I conclude each of our articles end with "let's go 1 and 0 one more time!" But the season's complete now so I have to change that up a bit.

We have been knocking on the door of the college football elite for a number of years and we are starting to knock it down with this huge Sugar Bowl victory. The only question that remains is, will we stay at this level? A distinguishing factor between the 1988 and 1993 teams from the 2005 team is that the 1988 and 1993 teams were hit with heavy graduation losses. This team however, has a load of talent remaining that should only strengthened by our 2006 recruits. The only thing that can beat West Virginia next year will be West Virginia.

So let's go 1 and 0 this summer where the "one" stands for every "one" on the team, striving and working hard, and the "zero" stand for let's have "zero" discipline issues during the off season. Guys, let's build bodies and character this summer! See you at the Blue & Gold game!

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