Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 17, 2012

Big games ahead on the college gridiron

BLUEFIELD — Big games dot the schedule this Saturday for five of the six college football teams in the Daily Telegraph coverage area.

Only Bluefield College gets a breather, but that is only because the 0-8 Rams aren’t scheduled to play again until Oct. 27 when Lindsey Wilson arrives at Mitchell Stadium for homecoming.

As for the teams on the field, this is a crucial week for all of them.

West Virginia (5-1, 1-1), which plummeted from 4th and 5th to 15th and 17th in the national polls after what Dana Holgorsen called an “embarrassing” 49-14 loss to Texas Tech, must face No. 5 (BCS) Kansas State, the only team that is still undefeated in the Big 12.

There is lots of football left to be played, but the Wildcats have already won at Oklahoma and it could be nearly impossible for the Mountaineers to claim the Big 12 title if they lose this game.

With all the publicity flowing around the Mountaineers during their 5-0 start, Tavon Austin admitted it might have gone to their heads.

“Definitely. When we came into that game, none of us had the mind set there. We thought we were going to go in there and get the easy win,” Austin said. “You can’t do that in college football. You have to come prepared every week. Even in warm-ups, our mind wasn’t in it.

“Definitely, now we will come in more like we are playing in the national championship.”

Problem is, so is Kansas State (6-0, 2-0). While this game doesn’t have the appeal it may have had if West Virginia had beaten Texas Tech, it is still a big game for both teams.

“We definitely played with no energy,” Austin said. “They’re a very good football team, but we need to grind past that and get a win this week.

“It’s not that we’ve lost before, because we’ve lost before. The confidence is still there. We know we are still a good offense, we‘re definitely going to show it this week.”

Kansas State is more like a Big East than Big 12 team. Led by talented quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats of Bill Snyder play “old school football”. They’re ranked 11th in the nation in rushing offense and 108th through the air, but they’re still scoring 40.8 points a game.

The Wildcats are also seventh in turnover margin and 19th in scoring defense.

“Kansas State definitely presents a great challenge. They play tough football,” Austin said. “That’s what Texas Tech did, they came in and hit us in the mouth. They’re going to come in like that this week, and we need to be prepared.”

The West Virginia defense, which was the subject of ridicule for allowing 63 and 45 points in two Big 12 wins, hasn’t improved much in terms of ratings.  They’re still ranked 119th, 118th, 114th and 109th in four key defensive stats.

Darwin Cook feels the Mountaineers lacked ‘mental effort’ against Texas Tech. He also said the blame having been placed on defensive coordinator Joe DeForest should be shifted the players, who must do a better job of communication.

“It doesn’t factor, you can’t make excuses just because of a new scheme and new coaches,” Cook said. “We still have to go out there as players and make plays. You can’t just blame it on new coaches and schemes, you just have to make plays.”

The same goes for Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1), which still has hopes of an ACC Coastal Division title and a berth in the ACC Championship Game, but the season will ride on the next three games, beginning Saturday at Clemson.

It was the Tigers that beat the Hokies twice last season, 23-3 at Lane Stadium and a 38-10 thumping in the ACC title game.

While Virginia Tech is coming off an impressive 41-20 win over Duke, the  Hokies had to score 41 unanswered points after falling behind 20-0.

Virginia Tech’s defense made big plays from that point, something the Hokies hadn’t done in a previous lopsided loss to North Carolina.

“We have been struggling a little bit. We came out 20 points in the hole and that was tough, but I don’t think our attitudes changed from the beginning,” Hokies’ defensive back Michael Cole said. “We just knew we had to believe and keep going for four quarters and that is what we did and it ended up working out.”

Clemson (5-1, 2-1), which is ranked 19th in the BCS, needs to keep winning in hopes of catching Florida State, which helped the Tigers when the Seminoles fell at N.C. State. A loss to the Hokies could pretty much dash Clemson’s hopes to an ACC Atlantic Division crown.

Virginia Tech is in a similar situation, where a loss could drop the Hokies to 4-4, with a pair of Thursday games on tap against Miami and Florida State.

“It definitely doesn’t get any easier,” Cole said. “The ACC from here on out gets tough and we have just got to keep this momentum going to South Carolina next week and keep going to practice and hopefully it will work out.”

Fellow defensive back Detrick Bonner had several key plays against Duke, and was glad to see the Hokies get back to its tradition of big plays on defense.

“I know that we are young and all, but I felt like we were going to make plays eventually,” Bonner said. “We were struggling with that at first, but I feel like we are coming along with it...It was fun (out there), but it felt like it was a job, you just have to keep moving forward.”

Up next is Clemson, which is 11th in scoring offense and 13th in total offense. Slowing that unit down will be key, and Logan Thomas and Co. will try to put up points on a team that 69th and 97th in scoring and total defense.

“I think they are a good offense,” Bonner said. “They are very explosive, we just have to got to come out and be focused. We are going to come out and play hard and leave it in God’s hands.”

There are other key games. Marshall is 2-4, much like they were at this point last season, and must turn it around to qualify for a bowl game, but it won’t be easy with Southern Mississippi and Central Florida up next.

The Golden Eagles were a popular pick to win Conference USA East, but they’re 0-6 and have to win eventually. The Herd is 2-4, and its lone wins came over FCS Western Carolina and an overtime victory at Rice.

Richlands product Devon Johnson has seven tackles this season for Marshall, while Bluefield’s Joe Woodrum has played in five of six games on special teams for the Herd.

Virginia continues look for answers after losing five straight games. The Cavaliers were supposed to be ready to challenge in the ACC, but now they just want wins. Up next is Wake Forest, which is 3-3, including a win over North Carolina.

Lose here and the Cavaliers could go winless the rest of the season with a difficult slate of games ahead.

There is also Concord, which will take a break from the rugged West Virginia Conference and challenge itself in Lynchburg against the FCS Liberty Flames.

Liberty is 2-4, but they have lost by three points to Wake Forest and dropped three games to FCS squads ranked in the Top 25. The Flames have scored 98 points in their last two games, both of which were wins.

The Mountain Lions have a tall task ahead. But, then again, so do the other five teams on his list.

It should be another fun Saturday on the gridiron.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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