Gator BloGgiN'

From now until the Gator Bowl, we'll be blogging away with news, notes, and observations from Jacksonville. Check back often for the latest!

12/31 10:00 PM (Chris)

We're less than 24 hours away from the Gator Bowl, and Mountaineer fans have completely taken over Jacksonville. That's no big surprise, as it happens at every Mountaineer bowl game. It's been a lot more difficult to get around the Hyatt today, as the elevators were jammed pack with folks sporting the flying WV.

We had a funny moment during the West Virginia portion of this morning's Gator Bowl press conference. After a few questions from the media for head coach Rich Rodriguez, I decided to change things up and ask a question to one of the players. Looking at center Dan Mozes, I asked "Dan, the Georgia Tech defense has held five teams to less than 60 yards rushing this season. What kind of a challenge does that present to the offensive line?"

As Mozes scooted up to his microphone and opened his mouth to respond, Rodriguez began to answer the question, even saying the words "You'd have to ask the players that."

I turned to Kevin and made sure that I had addressed the question to Mozes, and he re-assured me that I had. Five minutes later, I asked Kevin again just to be sure I wasn't losing my mind. In any event, I caught up with Dan after the press conference and he graciously answered the question, while also sharing a laugh about Coach Rod's eagerness.

During the Georgia Tech portion of the press conference, CBS personalities Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson sat in on the comments of GT head coach Chan Gailey and the captains.

For dinner tonight, we headed across the river to the Chart House for a wonderful seafood meal (though Keller and Gleason opted for steak). We rode a cab across the bridge to dinner, but on the way back decided to take a water taxi. Apparently, the engine in our boat is the same engine that was in Matt's rental car on the way down as it took us the better part of 30 minutes to make the trip back across the St. John's river.

That's all for now. We'll check back in prior to tomorrow's game. Everyone have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!

12/31 8:15 AM (Kevin)

Wow! What a great win by the men's hoop team over UConn. The only bad thing about it is that we weren't there to witness it in person. When I win the lottery, my first purchase will be an airplane so the entire staff can make the hops to every game, no matter what the situation.

On the football front, head coach Rich Rodriguez' decision to keep Steve Slaton from a scheduled interview yesterday is understandable, yet still frustrating. Noting that "he would just get hammered" by questions from the media, Rodriguez decided to hold him back from the ravages of we scoundrels. Maybe we're tougher than the South Florida defense?

We watched Georiga's comeback win over Virginia Tech in the media lounge before heading out last night, and did so in the company of one of the Gator Bowl volunteers who is a Bulldog fan. He was quite gracious concerning last year's Sugar Bowl, but the sting was eased for him when he learned we all were rooting for Georgia against the VTraitors.

Following the game, as we ambled toward Jacksonville Landing, we passed someone wearing a Virginia Tech shirt. One member of our party, commenting on Tech's football and basketball results, noted, "Nice 0-2 day for you". Ouch.

Despite the fact that the Georgia Tech team hotel is just across the street, West Virginia fans outnumbered Tech fans by approximately 3,000-2 at the landing. Not sure if they just weren't sporting their colors, or if they aren't in Jax yet or what, but there have been very few sightings of Techsters yet.

The weather watch has changed yet again. Very little of the predicted rain has shown up yet, and the forecast is now calling for 30% chance of rain today, and 50% on game day. I'm not sure which team that rain would favor.

Final interviews with the head coaches and team captains are at 11:00 AM this morning. Following that, WVU will have a closed walkthrough at Alltel Stadium. It will be the final practice ever for the Mountaineer seniors in the gold and blue.

12/30 3:10 PM (Chris)

Greetings from Sawgrass! Five-sevenths of the Blue and Gold News gang is assembled in Greg Hunter's hotel suite watching the Mountaineers take on Connecticut. Jane Donovan is in Morgantown doing a wonderful job of covering the game, while Cam Huffman is still in South Carolina. Columnist Bill Gleason made the four hour drive from his home in Florence, S.C. yesterday evening and is rooming with myself and Kinder.

Prior to the tip, Hunter asked each person when the last time they actually watched a game at the Coliseum on TV. It's certainly an interesting thought. Neither Kinder nor Hunter could think of a specific game, only to say that it was "sometime in the '70's".

The fan center opened this morning, with dozens of Mountaineer fans waiting for the doors to come open right at 10:00 AM. Kevin and Bill went to the Zide's Sport Shop to pick up some pins and shirts, while I wandered around taking part in the football toss, and also striking the Heisman pose in front of a picture of the Mountaineers running out of the tunnel. The fan shop is a little bit light this year, as Gleason was wanting to buy a golf shirt but could only find them in sizes Small and Medium. He scrounged up the only XL in stock, but not in the color he was wishing for.

We headed out to practice at UNF, roof-shingled parking lot and all. Keller and Parkersburg News and Sentinel writer Jim Butta killed time while waiting for the team by debating whether the UNF stadium was originally designed for football or soccer. Thankfully, the team showed up to give us something else to talk about.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez was tardy due to an FCA breakfast in the morning, so the players had a little bit of time to pass while waiting on their mentor. Free safety Quinton Andrews lined up in the shotgun, flanked by cornerback Antonio Lewis split out to his left. A handful of managers lined up elsewhere in the play, while Andrews barked out the signals. He then went into Peyton Manning mode, audibling out a play change before pretending to call a timeout while yelling "The play clock was running down...I had to!"

Last night at Jacksonville Landing, we heard the world's worst cover band. Hopefully they won't be there tonight, for the sake of Yellow Jacket and Mountaineer fans alike.

We also picked up our media passes and gifts this morning. The media gift this year is a garment bag stamped with the Gator Bowl logo, yet another example of the first class treatment we've gotten while here in Jacksonville. Media members also have the opportunity to win a variety of items on display in the media lounge, including mugs, collared shirts, laptop cases, hats, alarm clocks, and several other items.

The Mountaineer players have gotten some nice gifts from the bowl as well, including Oakley Thump sunglasses. If you're not familiar with the Thumps, they're sunglasses that come with a built in MP3 player. The sunglasses given to the team also have the words "Gator Bowl" stamped at the bottom of the lenses. Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez has confessed to wearing these while playing, but hopefully the Blue and Gold will be a little more focused on Monday than ManRam tends to be. Other bowl gifts for the team include new shoes, and plenty of WVU and Gator Bowl apparel.

That's all for now! We'll check in after the basketball game. Oh, and one more observation: there have been more holds in this basketball game than there will be in the bowl game on Monday. The only difference is, most of the holds today aren't being called.

12/30 8:30 AM (Kevin)

Rain greets us as we gear up for a big day here. Still watching the local forecasts closely -- it could well still be raining on game day. I did bring my ran gear with me, including my "Seattle Sombrero". It's a GoreTex rain hat with a big brim that makes me look like I'm traversing the wilds of Patagonia, but it does keep me dry. So, I wear it no matter how much abuse my coworkers heap on me.

Fortunately, the rain hasn't come in on a cold front, so that shouldn't cause any of WVU's bumps and bruises to tighten up any further.

12/29 9:45 PM (Kevin)

The wind was a major factor in the kicking game today. Field goal attempts against the wind were blown to the point where they fell to earth almost perpendicular to the ground. However, with the wind, some prodigious boots were made. Pat McAfee got off a 75-yard punt that interrupted offensive warmups on the other end of the field. That prompted shouts from the offensive assistants to back up. A playfully offended McAfee protested that he kicked the ball from the goal line, and noted that he might move to the next field over to continue kicking.

No high school players have made visits to WVU practices, although West Virginia remains involved with several Florida players. Recruiting is currently in a dead period, so West Virginia's coaches could not speak with any visitors should they show up.

Coaches from Nease High School in Florida have attended the past two practice sessions.

Several players are sporting new shoes for the game. Marc Magro's have shiny silver bottoms, while Patrick White's look like spats with blue panels on the outside.

12/29 4:00 PM (Kevin)

Back from practice. Coach Rod is noticeably testy in answering questions about the injury status of players, but he has to realize that is the story of the week. With an entire starting backfield affected by injury to varying degrees, there's no bigger storyline. He noted that there were many other topics to discuss, but failed to reveal what any of them were.

Steve Slaton was not on the field for any of the periods of practice where the media was allowed to attend. Although Rodriguez did not comment specifically on that absence, he was presumable getting treatement.

WVU was about 15 minutes late for its afternoon practice session. The delay was caused by a late departure from the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame Luncheon.

We're now in our second hotel room. The first proved unacceptable after the television in the room was unable to accurately receive ESPN. There are a number of stations I can do without, but ESPN isn't one of them.

Keilen Dykes continues to practice and play with a hand wrap to protect an injury that has nagged him throughout the season. The injury will not keep him out of the game.

12/29 12:43 PM (Chris)

So far, we haven't seen many Mountaineer fans in Jacksonville. Now that it's the weekend, though, we expect the numbers to pick up tremendously. Jacksonville Landing (the main hot spot here in town) was reminiscent of a ghost town last night. Needless to say, I don't expect that to be the case tonight.

Kevin and I ate at Mongo's last night, which is a Mongolian grill at the Landing. The setup is pretty cool. You basically stuff a bowl full of raw, uncooked meats, spices, and vegetables, then take it to the cook who prepares it right there in front of your eyes. While I was waiting on my food, a gentleman asked me if I was from West Virginia, and then inquired about just how much I knew about the bunker at The Greenbrier. I answered that I had been there once, but have since forgotten a lot that I learned on the tour. He then informed me that the bunker would be used again, and that we'd have to choose between saving us and saving our grandkids. Whatever, dude.

On a side note, it's great to open up my email and see a press release titled "UConn game sold out." While most of the attention of the Blue and Gold faithful is here in Jacksonville, it sounds like the Coliseum will be rockin' come Saturday.

We'll have more updates this afternoon.

12/29 8:30 PM (Kevin)

Depth at running back is obviously uppermost on everyone's mind in the WVU camp. The situation is made worse with the unavailability of Eddie Davis, who, according to WVU officials, won't play due to his medical redshirt status. If Oeen Schmitt is healthy enough to play effectively, look for him to get some snaps at tailback if Slaton can't go. We'll have more views and thoughts on this after today's interview sessions, which have been pushed back to 2:00 p.m.

For those wondering about the Kellers, they finally arrived yesterday evening after battling traffic and a balky transmission. I'll leave it to Matt to give you the details, but suffice it to say that they are now more familiar with the "Park" position of their vehicle.

12/28 4:25 PM (Kevin)

A brief, unscientific survey finds sentiment running against the ACC Championship Game and Gator Bowl in the same venue, especially when the loser of the All-Cash-Conference game has to rebound for a trip back to Jax a month later. While the Gator Bowl is an excellent game, featuring an outstanding staff and well-run events, it's tough, as one might expect, to generate much enthusiasm for the bounceback trip.

The ACC, which handles the championship game, didn't think that out very well in advance. Of course, that shouldn't be a surprise.

12/28 1:55 PM (Chris)

Kevin and I drove through the night and arrived in Jacksonville this morning around 7 AM. Instead of our usual Waffle House stop, we decided to eat healthier and had breakfast at McDonald's. We found our way to the UNF campus by 8:15, called home to let our families know that we made it, and then got ready to cover practice.

The parking lot at the UNF football field is rather unique. Whereas most parking lots are made of something like gravel or asphalt, this parking lot was made entirely of spare roofing shingles. It wasn't even the whole shingle, just spare parts that looked like they had been gathered from the dumpster at a local construction site. Maybe it's some kind of environmental thing? Whatever it is, I don't see this catching on as the wave of the future.

Moving on to practice, a light-hearted moment took place before the players even took the field. If you've looked at Practice Photo Gallery I, then you likely saw the picture of offensive coordinator Calvin Magee using the football on a stick as a baseball bat. After Magee perfected his swing, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Herb Hand stepped in to take a few cuts. One of the student managers grabbed a softball (normally used during a wide receiver drill) and started pitching it to Hand. Though he is a football coach by trade, Herb showed off a nice, compact swing (as compact of a swing as you can have with a football attached to a stick).

After making contact with several pitches, the inevitable happened: THWACK! CRACK! The stick broke in two, and the game was over. You know when you're playing ball as a kid, and someone in the group gets a little too carried away ends up breaking a window? It was kinda like that. Luckily for Herb, the owner of the house (in this case, head coach Rich Rodriguez) wasn't home at the time (as he had yet to come out of the locker room for pre-practice interviews). The stick was taped together, and I can only assume was functional enough to serve its purpose for the rest of practice.

On a completely different note, we're still awaiting the arrival of staff writer Matt Keller. The former Fairmont Senior heart-throb left for Jacksonville hours before we did, but didn't have the gall to drive all night. Apparently, he traded in his car for a Conestoga Wagon as at last check, he was not even to the Georgia line. Hey Matt, make sure you don't lose any oxen when you cross the Savannah River!

12/28 1:25 PM (Kevin)

The media are limited in watching practice, but we got a bit of a look at Steve Slaton and Patrick White today. While we were on the scene, neither ran full speed or cut sharply on their injured limbs. Of the two, Pat looked a bit better overeall.

Craig Wilson was to be tested today to determine if he could possibly be able to play. His right ankle was heavily wrapped, as was Owen Schmitt's. Schmitt took part in warmups.

Rayshawn Bolden was not with the wide receivers during the media-friendly portion of practice. Darren Brownlee is still in a cast with a thumb problem.


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