West Virginia offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee watched all of East Carolina's first three games, plus the tape of last year's 20-15 debacle of a WVU win, in which quarterback Patrick White threw two interceptions and only the Mountaineer defense kept the team in the game while stopping the Pirates in multiple short-field situations.
"This year they are active and play hard and are bigger at the linebacker spot," Magee said. "They are physical and they have a good scheme. It will be a battle for us. We are going to have to execute and do the right things. They are very aggressive defensively and don't make a lot of mistakes."
That aggressiveness might lead to more cutbacks by tailback Steve Slaton, like the 37-yarder he morphed into a Heisman-style romp in the 45-24 win over Maryland. That's the good. The bad, and this is the kicker here and the shtick of this story, was what was found after viewing last year's game tape.
"We just didn't execute," Magee said. "I was watching it today and yesterday. We didn't play hard. Watching it again, sometimes it'll (tick) you off all over again. But our guys are ready. It's our next game and we are trying to put that performance behind us."
The most troubling of the twosome of problems was not playing hard. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has made it his mantra to have tough, physical teams that play until the whistle, and there was a severe letup against East Carolina last year. Call it a common problem, then-3-0 West Virginia looking ahead to Virginia Tech or simply the case of a vastly superior team against an overmatched foe. But if it happens again, in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, WVU might be looking at the proverbial short end of the stick, especially with it being the first road test.
"We just weren't motivated," quarterback Patrick White said. "We took them a little lightly and it showed. They played us pretty well last year. Coach has been telling us it is a 12-round fight and to take one at a time. It's round four. We are a lot more focused this early in the season this year than we were last year. I think we are a lot more confident. We have the same players but everybody has gotten a lot stronger, a lot smarter. Now we just go out and play Mountaineer football."
White struggled last year against the multiple Pirate defense, which is typically an even front that aligns as a 4-3. He hit just five of eight passes for 64 yards and two interceptions. The Mountaineer offense scored just 13 points, with another seven coming via Antonio Lewis' 76-yard punt return.
"It wasn't one player, but we played back a little bit," wide receiver Brandon Myles said. "We have to go in there and play hard and not take it for granted, like we did last year."
That also means helping newcomers adjust to road conditions. WVU is thin at cornerback, and true freshmen Guesly Dervil and Boogie Allen will see time. So will wideout Wes Lyons, who played major high school football in the WPIAL, but has yet to even get a hint of a road game despite it being three weeks into the season.
"The crowd has been on my side. It'll be different trying to get the checks and things," Lyons said of WVU's offensive sets. "I talked to Brandon Myles and Rayshawn Bolden all the time about it. They said it would be loud, but you just have to play football. I don't think it will affect me too bad. We'll see how it plays out."
Said fellow receiver Jeremy Bruce: "When we go away for a road game, it's not the home atmosphere and people aren't cheering for you, but we still have our mindset. We might have it more than at home because you can really focus in. The more we win, the more that is a stake. It gets more and more important, and this is important to us.
"We are not going in there thinking they are not a good team. But we want to go into places and take their swagger away, so to speak. It's a huge game and it will be great and be a great test. There will not be a lot of people supporting us, but everything is there as far as the team. When we get together it is different. Even if we don't have the fan base, we are still up and ready to go."
Slaton did not play against East Carolina last season, instead bursting onto the scene with 90 yards on 11 carries against Virginia Tech the following week. He'll obviously feature into this contest, and there is little doubt ECU has yet to see a player of his caliber in an opposing backfield.
"I think we fell that we have to bring a little more because we don't have that home field advantage," Slaton said. "We thought it would be a pushover game last year. We didn't work to our full potential. That was the biggest problem. Then we did not execute as well as we should have. So this is a big game for us. We want this one."