Tailback Steve Slaton, held to just 54 yards on 13 carries in the last contest, didn't play in WVU's 2005 season-opening win in upstate New York against the Orange (1-4, 0-1 Big East). Quarterback Patrick White threw six passes for 63 yards, but now-senior signal caller Adam Bednarik more successfully moved the team. And backup Jarrett Brown, who would play if White is not able to because of a thigh bruise suffered against USF, has no game experience in the Dome.
Thus, for background on an arena that can be intimidating when full – it won't be Saturday – and one that has among the most unique feels in all of college football, White, Slaton and Brown have turned to Bednarik for advice on how to approach adjusting to everything from the lack of a crown on the field (WVU has among the most significant crown's in the NCAA) to the flat indoor lighting that makes everything appear somewhat odd for the first 30 minutes of warm-ups.
"It can get loud in there," said Bednarik, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 104 yards with an interception in the last WVU game at the Carrier Dome. "The stands are right on top of you. It can get loud and it makes it tough to communicate and hear. It is extremely tough, but we have to get used to it. We can go indoors to simulate the dome and they will have portable speakers up there."
No. 12 West Virginia (4-1, 0-1) held one practice in its Caperton IPF. It brought in the large speakers and piped music in just to give its newcomers a feel for what indoor game conditions would be like. Syracuse's setup is unlike larger domes because of its tight feel and the proximity of the fan base to the field.
"It is probably one of the most unique, different atmospheres to play in," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said, "even more than the Super Dome or the Georgia Dome because it's a smaller, confined area. It is different. The crowd noise is very loud and it is different but once you get the game started it's not bad. Most of the guys have played there before. The freshmen haven't, of course, but you don't have to worry about the weather. The confinement is the big thing."
West Virginia turned the ball over five times and was limited to one third-down conversion in 14 tries in the 15-7 win in its last trip to SU. The Mountaineers scored five points, including a safety, in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. One year later, West Virginia erupted for 457 yards of rushing offense as White and Slaton combined to score five rushing touchdowns in a 41-17 win.
"We executed better last year," Rodriguez said. "We had three or four really long ones in last year's game, where we had some great down-field blocking. Pat and Steve sometimes had a crease and that was a big difference. We didn't really break any long runs in the game two years ago. (Syracuse) played well, and they went after Louisville for four quarters. Louisville scored some touchdowns late, which they can do because they are pretty explosive, but Syracuse, in all three phases from special teams, offense and defense, they looked good. You have to assume that since it's a Big East game, and we'll be at their place, that is the Syracuse that we are going to get."
White exploded last season for four scoring runs, including rushes of 69, 40, 32 and 12 yards. He tallied 247 yards on 15 carries to lead the Mountaineers to a school-record fifth-straight win in the series. If he cannot play, West Virginia will be minus its "dart-fast" speed, according to SU head coach Greg Robinson. Brown, two inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than White's listed 6-2 and 185 pounds, is a solid runner, but lacks the added burst of his teammate. He tossed for WVU's lone touchdown last week, but also threw two interceptions in completing 11 of 20 passes for 149 yards.
"Coach Rod always tells me to practice like I am the No. 1 (quarterback)," Brown said. "Being the No. 2, sometimes you don't practice like you are always going to play. He wants you to practice like you will play all the time just in case my number is called. You could be (one play away) especially in our offense. I have been studying film, and it's worked. When I was back in the gun (against USF), I recognized some things. I saw coverages and picked up things. I remembered that I saw it on film. It will be the same this week. I'll study the film and be ready to play."
White, listed as day-to-day, will be a game-time decision. Slaton, who has suffered from cramps in several games this season, might benefit from the environment, which rarely reaches 90 degrees inside, though could be in the 80s with humidity. The junior back has never failed to rush for 100 yards in two consecutive contests in which he has started. Brown could get his second career start.
"My attitude and the way you approach practice, you have to have a sense of urgency," Brown said of WVU's second Big East game. "Coming from south Florida, (the loss) makes you push yourself. You want to be in shape and study film. I don't want to lose another game. I never want to have that feeling again. I want to push myself as hard as I can."