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Monday, January 02, 2006

WVU, 'Dogs seek mental edge

WVU, 'Dogs seek mental edge

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ATLANTA — The psychology of a football team’s attitude seemed as important as blocking, tackling and the game plan as the coaches in tonight’s Nokia Sugar Bowl held their last pregame press conference on Sunday morning.

“I would be shocked if either team comes out flat (Monday) night,” West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. The 10-1 Mountaineers are “ready to play,” he said. “Mental mistakes at practice have been at a minimum. … I think our guys are excited to play and they should be excited.”

The subject of playing Georgia (10-2) in the Georgia Dome came up again, as it does like clockwork in press briefings. Rodriguez said, “They’re the favorite. They should be the favorite. They are a very good football team. They’ve recruited very well. We are playing them in their home state.

“It’s going to be a great challenge, but we’re not going to forfeit. We’ll go out there and see what happens.”

West Virginia is in its fourth straight bowl – and its first in the elite Bowl Championship Series. The team is still searching for its first bowl win in the Rodriguez era. Florida State beat WVU 30-18 in the 2005 Toyota Gator Bowl.

Georgia has been to bowl games in each of the last eight seasons, winning seven, including last year’s Outback Bowl, a 24-21 thriller over Wisconsin. The Bulldogs are 3-4 all-time in Sugar Bowls, and WVU is 0-2.

Rodriguez said, “We play pretty good teams in bowl games, and we’re going to be playing one of the best in the country (Monday) night.”

Asked about the perception that West Virginia is the champion of a “weak” Big East Conference, Georgia coach Mark Richt said, “I don’t think anybody likes to hear that they can’t win or they don’t belong. Usually the team that’s being told they can’t win … is really hungry.”

That will give the Mountaineers an intensity and an “advantage,” Richt said. “So we’ve got to make sure we don’t ‘drop the ball’ as far as being excited about playing this game.”

Rodriguez said that he wants to provide perspective on the week’s activities in his pregame comments this evening. He mentioned “all the buildup, and all the questions and the press conferences they’ve had, and the people asking them ‘Are you ready?’ … It’s still a game, and it’s a game played by 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. It’s just on a big stage. So I want them to have fun with it. (But) it’s easier to have fun when you’re winning.”

To combat “the obviously home-field-type advantage,” the WVU mentor said, “We’ve got to keep our fans into the game and keep theirs from being too boisterous early. And having our young guys get some confidence.”

The young players include starting quarterback Pat White, tailback Steve Slaton, placekicker Pat McAfee and backup center Mike Dent. West Virginia has played eight true freshmen and 11 redshirt freshmen this year.

Sherry Houck, mother of WVU cornerback Aaron Meckstroth, said that the massive West Virginia fan section has an effect on the team. “It energizes them. It gets them going.”

She and her husband Terry arrived in downtown Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. Terry Houck said that even on New Year’s Eve, the team was “exceptionally focused. They are all business.”

Joey Tolley, a WVU student and resident of the Putnam County town of Eleanor, said, “I think we’ll be outnumbered (in the stands). We need the momentum on our side so maybe the Georgia fans will shut up.”

Richt said, “I think emotion makes a great difference. I think grabbing momentum early makes a big difference. It’s a lot easier to hold onto momentum than to try to stop bad things happening to you and turn things in your favor.

“You have to be ready for a 60-minute battle,” Richt said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take for us to get a handle on (West Virginia’s) scheme. … I hope that we have an answer early, defensively. I hope we have an answer offensively, early.”

If that happens, Rodriguez is confident that WVU can climb back on top. He cited the Louisville game on Oct. 15 in which his team trailed 24-7 with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. “It was an ugly thing, but nobody panicked. This year, with young guys, I don’t think they look too far ahead, or look too far behind. They just think about winning the next play. And I think that’s going to be important for us.”

West Virginia won the Louisville game 46-44 in triple overtime.

A reporter told Richt that ESPN analysts were predicting West Virginia to produce an upset win. “I didn’t know that,” the Georgia coach said, leaning forward. “I’m glad that that happened. That helps. I hope (my players) heard that, and hope they don’t like it.”

“I don’t put any stock whatsoever in who’s favored,” Rodriguez said.

Georgia linebacker Tony Taylor said, “You want to be confident, to believe in yourself, but you don’t want to be overconfident. They have one of the top five rushing attacks in the nation.”

The trophy for the winning team is an antique silver single-bottle wine cooler made in London in 1830, according to Sugar Bowl officials. A replica is given to each winning team for its trophy case.

With regard to injuries, Rodriguez said that reserve tailback Jason Colson has been slow to recover from a knee sprain and receiver Jeremy Bruce is probably out with an ankle sprain. A few players, including nose guard Ernest Hunter, have been bothered by a stomach virus, but all of them except for defensive end Johnny Dingle have recovered to near-full-strength, he said.

Richt said that nose guard Gerald Anderson is suffering from a stiff back and will not start.

Game time is set for 8:37 p.m. from the Georgia Dome, and will be televised by ABC.

—Contact Tom Bone at

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