ATLANTA — Crowd noise is often a concern of coaches before a football game in “enemy territory.” Rich Rodriguez didn’t expect to be dealing with it at his hotel.

That’s exactly what the West Virginia University contingent is trying to get under control, he said at Wednesday’s Nokia Sugar Bowl media conference.

The Hyatt Regency is “a little crazy,” the coach said, since it is headquarters to both the WVU team and to approximately 2,400 children attending this year’s National Inspirational Youth Convention.

Rodriguez said, “It caught me off-guard a little bit. So we’ve had some issues with elevators and crowd noise. I realized we’d have some crowd noise in the game, but I didn’t know I’d have to work on it at midweek, especially at 1 in the morning. Our players have gotten a lot of practice with crowd noise.

“Our players have handled everything beautifully, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. … Whenever they’ve been faced with a little adversity, they’ve handled it very maturely.”

Rodriguez also fretted Wednesday about the weather — bouts of showers in the Atlanta area may change some practice plans.

Foremost on his mind, though, was the Mountaineers’ challenge next Monday night playing the Georgia Bulldogs and their explosive offense in Monday’s Nokia Sugar Bowl at the Georgia Dome.

He reported that it had taken the Mountaineers a practice or two to “get cranked back up” after the holiday layoff. “I was a little bit disappointed in (Tuesday’s) practice. Today (Wednesday) it was better. The players had a little more intensity; they were a little excited.

“I think every college football player dreams of playing in a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) bowl,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like the Final Four in basketball. It’s the four biggest bowls there are, every year. …”

He said his team didn’t let that bowl possibility distract them from concentrating on the last two games of the regular season. Rodriguez said, “I was really proud. … To me, that showed a lot to me about their focus, and their intent on finishing the season the right way. I think that’s one of the reasons we had success this year.”

The coach is excited about “playing on a national stage. Your program gets a lot of attention, and hopefully that’ll help us in recruiting, and it’ll help our players feel good.”

“Our guys have enjoyed playing in the national spotlight. … Some of the ESPN midweek games have been good for us. It gives us a little bit of extra time to prepare.”

He tempered his enthusiasm for attaining West Virginia’s first BCS bid with a reminder of reality.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve got a great task in front of us — one of the best teams in the country, and we’re playing basically at their ‘home field.’ I just want us to play well. If we play well and they play well and we don’t come out on top, we’ll be disappointed, I promise you, but we can at least hold our head up high.

“We want Georgia to get our best shot. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to do with our team, to keep them focused. This is a great city; the Sugar Bowl’s doing a great job of relocating the bowl here, but we’ve got to keep our guys focused.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt elaborated on the game being moved temporarily from Louisiana due to hurricane damage. “We’re certainly in Atlanta and not in New Orleans. But the Sugar Bowl people are still here, and the familiar faces going back to 2002 and even before then. … They’re the same hospitable people that they’ve always been. It’s just a new venue.

“But to me, it feels like a BCS bowl to me. It feels like a great opportunity for us, as far as the game, and everything that goes along with a big game like that. And of course Atlanta’s a great city.”

In looking at Georgia’s personnel, Rodriguez claimed “there are no true weaknesses” in the Bulldogs’ playing units.

“I watch all three phases, and I ask what part of their phase maybe can we take most advantage of, offense, defense, special teams? I think the reason they won the SEC is because they’re the most complete team in all three phases in the SEC.”

Assessing West Virginia’s talent on Wednesday, Richt said, “Schematically, they’re pretty different from most everybody we’ve played, offensively and defensively...

“A good team, that has the success that West Virginia’s had, they’re rarely going to change everything just because they’re playing us, or because they’re playing in a bowl game. So I think we’re going to see what we’ve been (seeing), what we’ve been practicing against.”

The Nokia Sugar Bowl kicks off at 8:30 p.m. Monday night and will be televised by ABC.

— Contact Tom Bone


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