By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Could this be the final edition of the Backyard Brawl, a football tradition that’s been part of West Virginia and Pittsburgh since 1895?
With West Virginia bound for the Big 12 and Pittsburgh heading to the ACC, it could be, but Mountaineers’ head coach Dana Holgorsen would like to see it continue.
“We should play because of what it means to the community and the state and Pittsburgh,” Holgorsen said. “You want to play a lot of you non-conference games because the Big 12 is a broader conference. You have to travel a good distance away.
“The biggest draw from a recruiting standpoint is that we are going to play here seven times year. Kids pick their school because they want to play there, not where they play away games.
“We want to make WVU as good as possible from a facilities, coaching, social and educational standpoint. You want to pick non-conference games that are here, but ones that are also close to here.”
They’ll meet on Friday in Morgantown with both teams still in the hunt for the Big East championship. Five teams are currently within a half game of first place, which is currently led by Rutgers and Louisville.
Hopes still remain for West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), Pittsburgh (5-5, 3-2) and Cincinnati, which appeared to be destined for the title and a BCS bowl before losing its last two games.
West Virginia enters have lost two of its last three games, while the Panthers are 3-3 in their last six outings, but did knock off Louisville last week, while Rutgers was beating Cincinnati to pull into a tie for first place.
“It seems like we play a team every week that is good in one or two areas,” Holgorsen said. “Pitt is high in the country in getting sacks, and they bring guys from everywhere. They are not as big of blitz tendency like Syracuse and Cincinnati, but they also try to create negative plays in the run game.
“South Florida is No. 1 in the country (in negative plays), and we will be facing them next week. Negative plays will put you in bad third-down situations.”
Stopping Pittsburgh and quarterback Tino Sunseri will key for the Mountaineers, which allowed 21 points last week, the fewest they had surrendered in a month. The Panthers’ lost top threat, running back Ray Graham, earlier this season.
Even though West Virginia has scored points in bunches most of the season, Holgorsen understands that the old adage about defenses winning championships is true.
“There are some pretty good defenses in the Big East. The records have been pretty much the same over the years. It has been a pretty competitive league,” Holgorsen said. “There are about four or five defensive teams that are pretty good. You have to create turnovers and negative plays. Pitt does a good job of that.
“When we beat Cincinnati last week, we did a good job of that. There is a lot of truth to it. As much as I would like to say we could play against anyone offensively, we are not there yet. I don't mind saying that, and I am not ashamed of it. There is a little bit of a transition.”
West Virginia trails the all-time series with Pittsburgh 39-61-3, but have won the last two. It will be Holgorsen’s first chance to be part of one of the top rivalries in college football.
“I have heard about a few...The longer I am here, the better feel I will have for it,” Holgorsen said. “You get conversations of that game and people remind me of what happened in 1980 or 1992.
“You have to worry about getting your guys ready to play and not what happened in the past. That is more fan based and media based.”
Nothing will change as far as preparation. Up next is Pittsburgh, and it’s just as important as any other game on the schedule.
“We are going to coach pretty hard this week. We are going to work tirelessly and watch a lot of film to put the proper game plan in and keep the kids accountable,” Holgorsen said. “We are going get the message across and get our players ready to play.
“There are only a couple teams in the country that can play bad and still win — that list is still getting smaller and smaller. We are going to expect good things to happen. It is harder to get your guys ready against an unfamiliar opponent than it is in a rivalry game.”
Friday will also be senior night at Mountaineer Field so that is extra motivation for the Mountaineers to come out winners in what might be their last game against Pitt.
“This is the last time they will play here. Any time there is transition, senior are affected more than anyone,” Holgorsen said. “I have tremendous amounts of respect for Najee (Goode), Keith (Tandy), Julian (Miller), Don Barclay and Tyler Rader.
“There is a big list of them. We owe them a victory. It isn't about those 16 guys though. Everyone has to do their best to go out and get a victory.”
—Contact Brian Woodson