Motivated Mountaineers

Believe or not, a big positive has be taken from West Virginia's sobering three-touchdown defeat at East Carolina.

One of the most prevalent intangibles in West Virginia's rise to the top echelon of the college football landscape over the past decade has been a constant ability to turn any perceived slight or any perceived source of disrespect into a source of motivation.

If there was any shred of doubt cast over the Mountaineers, they found it, used it properly, and proudly quieted the critics. For an example, look no further than January's Fiesta Bowl, when 84 percent of college football fans voting on ESPN.com picked Oklahoma to defeat WVU.

After West Virginia's 48-28 win over the Sooners, a handful of Mountaineers brought up the poll. Wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh took it to another level by writing "84% WRONG!" on one of the team's sideline whiteboards after the win.

It is this edge, this proverbial and persistent Mountain-sized chip on their collective shoulders that has fueled the Mountaineers to some of their biggest wins. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that one of their worst defeats – a 24-3 pounding at the hands of East Carolina – saw nary a speck of that same edge, that same chip, that same "us against the world" mentality which was so prevalent in the past.

"I don't think we entered that stadium down there in the right frame of mind," said junior offensive lineman Greg Isdaner.

"I don't know how many, but a few people who were walking around with their nose in the air," added senior quarterback Patrick White. "It leveled them out."

With two of the team's most experienced players confirming what many watching the game suspected, two questions come to mind. The first: Where does the mindset which White described come from?

"Where does it come from?" repeated the signal caller. "My guess is kids being young, not knowing that it's college football and for every game, you have to show up and play each week. Especially now, with great recruits going all over the nation to every school. Coaches are getting smarter, players are getting smarter. Schemes are getting harder to break apart."

Fair enough. The second question: What is being done to correct the mindset?

The answer to that, it seems, is unanimous.

"I watch a lot of practices, and at the beginning of the season, I think it was more of a professional atmosphere," explained kicker/punter Pat McAfee. "Now, it's back to everyone having a chip on their shoulder. Everybody is kind of mad and trying to prove themselves.

"There has been a lot of yelling and people getting mad at each other, and I think that's a good thing," he continued. "There is a lot of enthusiasm going on, and that's good."

"We've got a little bit of a fire in our bellies after that loss," added nose guard Chris Neild. "We have to put it behind us and move forward."

By all indications, intensity and a sense of purpose have been hallmarks of West Virginia's practices over the past 10 days or so. Head coach Bill Stewart has lauded his team's physicality and toughness over the past two weeks, thanks in no small part to increased emphasis on blocking and tackling, two areas in which the Mountaineers struggled in the loss but two areas in which the choice is clear: by physical and fundamentally sound, or be defeated.

The team's 20-member senior class has been another source of motivation this week, according to Stewart.

"It has been a tremendous week of confidence and leadership all from the heart," he said. "We have great young men and they have stepped up and led, and I'm really pleased with them. I'm very proud, the University should be proud and most importantly the people of West Virginia should be proud of these seniors because they've been knocked in the teeth the last 10 days.

"People are telling them how much they stink and how we're not this or that, and those guys have hung in really well and I'm proud of them."

While the intensity and edge has returned to the practice field, it remains to be seen whether or not all of that will carry over to Thursday night's game at Colorado. West Virginia will once again be facing a talented opponent in a hostile environment. Will a cross-country trip temper some of those motivating factors which have seemed so prevalent in Morgantown over the past week and a half?

"The way we've come out to practice these last few days, I think there is a ton we can do to make sure that (against Colorado), we'll be ready to go," said Isdaner. "I think we will be."

"ESPN and everybody always, always hates on us anyways," added McAfee. "We always have had the feeling that we have to prove something, but I think it's even more so now after the embarrassment we had down at East Carolina.

"I think we are ready to prove ourselves."


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