WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

The Friday night fight

Western Pennsylvania and especially passionate on the topic. “

Say what you will about this — and Kelley say a lot after the jump — but the only thing that really matters is what the ESPN family of networks has to say. In this case, they said South Florida would play host to West Virginia and quietly accept the payday.

Mountaineers Coach Rich Rodriguez has an interesting, if not simple, opinion of playing a Friday night home game.

“We won’t play one,” he said.

More…Rodriguez understands the necessity and he can appreciate the value in his program and USF’s receiving uncontested exposure among college football fans tonight on ESPN2. Yet there are consequences. Florida is the Mountaineers’ most important state for recruiting. There they are, in the middle of the state — yes, Tampa is more in the middle than in the south … discuss — and won’t be able to do any additional recruiting because any games worth watching are tonight. Then there are the high school programs. Friday is their day. Just not today. Consider Kelley’s case. He coaches in Morgantown. The Hawks are undefeated and one of the best teams in the state. Tonight, they play a road game, and while they might normally bring some casual fans with them for the short trip, that probably won’t happen for this game.

Of course, it’s not like they’ll be vastly outnumbered in the stands, either. The Hawks play at Fairmont Senior, which is in Marion County, where Rodriguez is from and where Rodriguez is as big as his paycheck. Forget the fact it’s Homecoming at Fairmont Senior. It’s the native son on national television with a chance to beat a ranked team for his 100th career victory. You know where they’ll be tonight. Kelley does, but he doesn’t blame them for being forced into this situation. “It’s out of our control,” he said. “I know Coach Rodriguez has expressed he doesn’t like it and he won’t play one at home, but it’s a fact of life. Money talks, TV talks and colleges walk. There is no doubt in my mind the Big East is going to make West Virginia have one soon.” WVU’s Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Parsons, who oversees scheduling and television and has helped prevent a Friday night home game for as long as this idea has existed, was presented with Kelley’s opinion. “I can’t tell you that won’t happen,” Parsons admitted.

The Mountaineers will resist, just as they have in the past. They’d prefer not play any mid-week games because they share parking lots with the hospital. Yet they know the sad reality is they might one day coalesce with the demands of television and conspire to dim the Friday night lights.

“Obviously the conference knows it’s not in our desire to play a Friday night home game and they are sensitive to certain areas that are more of a high school hot bed than others,” Parsons said. “But there is a certain number of games the Big East is required to provide and we may be in the situation in the future where we have to do that. We’ve made it known it’s not our desire, but at the same time it may be something we’re forced to do in the future.”

So that’s why USF played better in ‘06

A young West Virginia team growing in confidence, maturity and visibility headed to Tampa in December 2006 and beat South Florida 28-13. Patick White ran for 177 of the team’s 305 yards and scored on runs of 65 and 76 yards. Last year, it was different as a Bulls team going through a metamorphosis similar to the one the Mountaineers enjoyed a year earlier held WVU to 132 yards rushing and White just 17 on 15 carries. His longest run? A brief 10 yards.

According to defensive tackle Richard Clebert, USF, it seems, was determined not to let this happen again.

“Well, last year I remember that all of our practices were like we had to focus and be disciplined. The thing is that somebody would think that Pat White would have the ball and someone would get nosey and go for him and he’d break for 80. We learned from our mistakes (from ’06) and we can’t do that. It’s not really a statistical game. It’s just playing your part and helping the whole defense out and getting a W. That’s the goal for us.”

Travel tips

Today is the big travel day for not just West Virginia’s football team, which plays Friday at South Florida, but also for the many, many fans who will follow or meet the Mountaineers in Tampa. Looks like the weather will comply, too. WVU is guessing between 10,000 and 12,000 of its fans will help fill the sold-out Raymond James Stadium.

Naturally, there is plenty planned in Tampa.

WVU Tampa Bay! Pregame Party!
WVU vs. USF Pregame Party will be Thursday, September 27th at Beef O’Brady’s in South Tampa.
Wear you Blue and Gold to get happy hour drink specials and 49 cent wings starting at 5:00 p.m.
There will be fun, prizes, games, raffles, etc…
We want to see EVERYONE out on Thursday Night!!!
Let’s Goooooooo Mountaineers!!!

If that’s not your thing, the town offers many other fine and enjoyable activities.
 

Not so fast, WVU fans!

Apparently someone does pay attention to the zany things Lee Corso says. South Carolina University has used a two-year old taunt as the basis for a promotional Web site. Corso said Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks wouldn’t win the SEC or a national title in 400 years.

There’s also a video, hosted by a grinning Spurrier, replaying Corso’s on-air predictions that South Carolina wouldn’t be able to beat other top teams such as Tennessee, Florida and Clemson — interspersed with snippets of subsequent Gamecock wins against those teams.

South Carolina played the video on its giant stadium screen at its home opener. Athletics director Eric Hyman says that resulted in 300,000 hits to the site — and 25,000 users throwing balls at Corso — in the next few days. Although this is “just part of college football and it can’t be taken too serious,” Hyman says, Corso has become “a rallying point for Gamecock Nation!”

Corso is the antagonistic prognosticator on ESPN’s College Game Day who’s been doing this for years and has developed a loving and loathing fan base that often assumes the worst … and sometimes does the worst.

Regarding speculation he has something against the Gamecocks for firing Holtz — now at ESPN — Corso says not-so-fast: “There’s no coach I’m close to now, just my job. I have nothing against South Carolina. And how about the times I picked Florida to beat (alma mater) Florida State. You prostitute your integrity in this business, you’re done.”

Theoretically, you could also die. After saying West Virginia had no business even playing Notre Dame in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl — Notre Dame won — he got death threats investigated by the FBI. 

We’d been waiting for word, but apparently it takes time to sell some 65,000 tickets to a Friday night football game in high school heavy Florida. Nevertheless, it’s done and the game between West Virginia and South Florida will be played in sold out Raymond James Stadium.

The largest stadium in the BIG EAST has been sold to capacity in anticipation of Friday night’s football game between No. 18 USF and No. 5 West Virginia.

The sellout is the first since the program has been playing at Raymond James Stadium and all but guarantees that USF will play in front of a record crowd for the game that will be televised nationally by ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.

Not that this isn’t a big moment for the Bulls, because it is, but it’s not all that significant to their counterparts. WVU is 21-5 in night games under Coach Rich Rodriguez and 11 of those wins have come on the road. News of the imminent sell out was met little more than a with a yawn and a nod.

“I’ve talked to our team about how when a highly ranked team goes on the road to play somewhere, they’re going to sell out the stadium,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s like the Yankees. Every time they go somewhere, they’re going to get a big crowd. Every time we go somewhere, we help them sell out. It’s not like they’re all coming to watch us. They’re also coming to watch USF. But our guys understand about hostile environments and at the same time, they’d rather go some place like that than some place where no one cares.”

Bold, to be sure, but it’s very true. WVU’s last Friday night game was at Connecticut last year. The Mountaineers won 37-11 before a rare sell-out crowd of 40,000 and helped ESPN2 set its Friday night ratings record.

Richard Clebert would like to point something out

Surely by know you’ve heard that West Virginia’s quarterbacks coach, Rod Smith, and offensive line coach, Greg Frey, spent their past several seasons working at South Florida before coming to Morgantown this season. It’s another storyline for Friday’s game that, in all honesty, already had plenty for the national audience on ESPN2’s 8 p.m. stage.

Well, USF defensive tackle Richard Clebert added another element. When discussing how familiar Smith and Frey might be with USF’s plans and players, he took a swipe at Frey.

Of all the players polled, only Clebert came close to admitting that Smith and Frey’s presence gives West Virginia any advantage. But he also said that the game is in the players’ hands once the ball is kicked.

“I know we’re going to change signals and all that, but I don’t think it’s going to matter that much. Even if they know our call, the guy in front of me still has to take me on and beat me,” Clebert said. “I know Coach Frey knows what kind of player I am and I’m sure he’s telling his offensive linemen what to do against me. That’s okay. We didn’t have a real good relationship while he was here, so I’m going to be pointing right at him whenever I make a play.”

Clebert, a 6-foot-1, 312-pound senior from Miami, has nine tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack and eight quarterback hurries this season.

Bravo, Randy Edsall, bravo

The past weekend was another good one for the Big East, what with West Virginia and rolling South Florida rolling to set up their primetime clash Friday night and Cincinnati putting up 40 points before a record crowd at home and then moving into the AP poll for the first time since 1976.

“I’ve played at Penn State and at Michigan,” said UC coach Brian Kelly. “The atmosphere at Nippert Stadium was as good as college football can be.”

It’s been a long time since going to football games was the thing to do at UC. And maybe it still isn’t. One game doesn’t make a trend.

Still, it’s a noteworthy early payoff to the work that Kelly and the UC athletic department have done to generate interest in the program.

Then there was Connecticut moving to 4-0 with a win at Pitt, even though the Huskies were an eight-point underdog, and, of course, Syracuse stunning Louisville.

Continue reading…

Already?

Last time I checked, LSU was No. 2 nationally and No. 1 in the minds of many others. Ridiculous defense, dangerous offense, significant home field advantage and a very able head coach. To that, Michigan just beat Penn State and is suddenly 2-2 after a defensively deficient 0-2 start. It’s a matter of time until someone chimes in with the “Lloyd Carr is reminding everyone how good of a coach he is” article.

Well, it turns out he first might need to remind people he still is the coach. Speculation already suggests Carr is finished and LSU’s Les Miles, a UM graduate, would be his replacement.

Wondering why this “news” belongs here? At least one person is of the opinion WVU Coach Rich Rodriguez would be a candidate to replace Miles.

His flirtation with Alabama last offseason shows that he’s at least open to the possibility of returning to the South, and he had great success down the road from Baton Rouge at Tulane. He’d get a long look if the search commenced today.

I won’t be asking Rodriguez about this any time soon. I will, however, check the NCAA record book because this might be the earliest a coach has been connected to an opening that’s not open because the current coach will presumably leave for another opening that’s not yet open.

Patrick White now has it all

I thought it was a little strange to see ESPN’s Erin Andrews working the sideline Saturday. In a noon game. On ESPN2. Not that anyone was complaining, though.

Least of all Patrick White.

The West Virginia quarterback received what appeared to be a hug and a peck on the cheek from ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews a few seconds after a postgame interview Saturday at Puskar Stadium.

“That’s between me and her,” White said, a little shocked that someone caught the interlude, before breaking into a sly smile.

A few seconds later, he volunteered, “I almost fainted when she came up to me.”

Andrews evidently was the only person who could’ve taken down White on a warm September afternoon as the Mountaineers drilled East Carolina 48-7.

So if you’re keeping track at home, White has been drafted twice by the Anaheim Angels and he’s been named the Big East’s offensive player of the year — the combination meaning he’s all but guaranteed to have a professional career in whichever sport he chooses — and he talks, er, meows some of the funniest smack ever. And now he’s tight with Ms. Andrews.

If the Heisman were awarded on career achievements, White would be a lock.

Wes Lyons, finally healthy after working through a knee injur most of the summer, had been coming along nicely in recent games and practices before his brutal block on East Carolina’s Leon Best.

Not sure what was more impressive: The thorough execution on the block or Andre Ware saying Lyons hit Best “right in the mustache.” Let’s give Lyons the nod as he provided the exclamation mark on a very nice day for the wide receivers.

“I saw him coming the whole way,” Lyons said. “He peeked at me at the last second, so he probably saw me coming, but it was a little too late.”

Indeed and it’s probably a good time for the receivers to attract some attention. South Florida’s collective speed on defense will make it difficult for the Mountaineers to spread the field and get players free in open space. Receiver blocking on the perimeter and down the field will be necessary to keep the Bulls from pursuing plays and rallying to the ball.