In the hours before the season opener against Villanova, one would think that the Mountaineers would have been solely focused on Andy Talley's Wildcats.
For the most part, that thought was true. However, several of the WVU players couldn't help but look ahead -- in high-definition -- to this weekend's game against East Carolina.
You see, West Virginia's newly-renovated locker room and player lounge area includes several plush couches and a handful of large high-definition TVs. And as the Mountaineers were putting on their pads, taping their ankles and the like prior to the Villnova game, those televisions were tuned into East Carolina's upset win over Virginia Tech in Charlotte.
"If anyone asks if (East Carolina) has our attention, I'll tell them 'Oh yeah, they had our attention before we even played (Villanova)," head coach Bill Stewart quipped during his Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Puskar Center.
Stewart expects a raucous atmosphere at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for Saturday's 4:30 P.M. kickoff. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Twice in the past three seasons, the Pirates have been able to slow down West Virginia's high-powered offense. In order to prevent this from happening again, Stewart says that his team must minimize mistakes and bring maximum effort on each and every play.
The biggest challenge, says the head coach, might be East Carolina's overall team speed, particuarly on defense.
"This will be one of the fastest football teams we play all year," Stewart said. "You can look at our schedule and I'll let your imagination and your expertise pick the schools that you think they can match up against. This will probably as fast or the fastest team that we play all year. So, we have to really be on our A-game as we do every week and go in there and face what I'm sure is going to be a hostile, jubilant, enthusiastic crowd down there in Greenville."
The ECU defense, under the direction of coordinator Greg Hudson, includes several veterans from previous battles against West Virginia. Of the 11 Pirate starters, 10 are either juniors or seniors. Thus, they have come close to tasting success against West Virginia before, aside from last season's 48-7 blowout in Morgantown.
In breaking down the tape from ECU's win over Virginia Tech, Stewart said that the defense's ability to keep the Hokies out of the end zone may have been what impressed him most.
"They did a fine job against the Hokies," he said. "Nine of the points were from the kicking game if I'm not mistaken. Their defense is pretty stout. For whatever reason, and I know the reason but I don't want to say it nationally, but in 2005 and 2006 we had our hands full with the East Carolina defense.
"This Greg Hudson (ECU defensive coordinator) is going to be a good one," Stewart continued. "He's a lot like Jeff Casteel. He's young, and he's not one of the ‘gurus' that you all and the internet and all these publications make them sometimes, but this guy should be a guru because he is a tremendous defensive coach."
Of course the biggest obstacle for both teams to overcome this weekend might not be the opposition, but instead Mother Nature. Hurricane Hanna is expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday morning, which would undoubtedly make for a very wet and windy weekend in Greenville, which sits less than an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. Saturday's weather, however, is the least of Stewart's worries.
"That's the last thing in my thoughts right now, to be very honest," Stewart said. "That's way above my pay grade. If we're going to play and need a moat or a boat or whatever, let's get it on.
"We'll play wherever they want to play and whenever they want to play."
West Virginia's athletic administration will be in touch with the offices of ECU athletic director Terry Holland throughout the week. At this point, there does not seem to be an imminent relocation or rescheduling for Saturday's game.
The play of sophomore slot receiver Jock Sanders stood out to many on Saturday. The St. Petersburg, Fla. native caught a pair of touchdowns from Patrick White, and had eight catches overall. For the Mountaineers to reach their full potential in 2008, Sanders must continue to provide valuable contributions to the offense.
"We need to get the ball in his hands as often as we can," Stewart said. "He has great ball skills catching the ball. He's very deceptive running routes. He uses his feet well, finds the hole well. Jock Sanders had a real good day. The catch in front of the Villanova cheering section that Patrick threw was one of the greatest throws and catches that I've ever seen."