MORGANTOWN - It's kinda strange West Virginia's Chris Neild plays with a hand on the ground because he's certainly a standup guy.
You'd have thought at some point, as the West Virginia defense was continually forcing punts and holding Syracuse down in the second half last Saturday, someone on the defense would look over at the guys on the offense and say something like, ''Hey fellas, you want to help us out here?''
It would never happen, Neild said.
''It's not on anybody. It's not put on the offense, not put on the defense. It's a complete team effort,'' Neild said. ''We hold them to one less field goal - they score 16, we have a chance of hitting a field goal at the end of the game. That's how I look at it. So it's a complete team effort. If we work together this week like we have in the five games we won, if we play that same way, we'll be all right.''
Same thing for linebacker J.T. Thomas, who admitted he had to first pick himself up after the loss to Syracuse before he could do the same for others.
''There will definitely be a game this year where we're not playing our best, and the offense is going to have to save our butt,'' Thomas said. ''There's no need to harp on the offense. No one talks when they put up 49. When they go out and put up 14, the defense needs to be that much better. We gave up a touchdown in that game. If we don't give up a touchdown, we probably win that ballgame. You can't put all the blame on the offense - 14 points can be enough to win.''
So there you have it.
There is certainly no divided locker room in Morgantown, even as the defense is first in the Big East in just about everything and the offense, well, isn't.
''I'm pretty sure you'll see some tee'd off guys on that field Friday night with an even bigger chip on their shoulder,'' Thomas said.
Smith Moves Forward
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith said he'd never endured such a tough game as he did last week.
But he's got two things working for him that all quarterbacks need: A thick skin and a short memory.
Smith, of course, was intercepted three times, sacked five times, and hurried all day long in the face of a relentless Syracuse pressure.
He completed 20 of 37 passes for 178 yards.
''It doesn't take long for me because I understand that once the game is over, whether you win or lose, you don't get a prize after that game,'' Smith said. ''You get a prize at the end of the year. We've got five more games to go and we have to win them all.
''We wanted to come out and win every game, but unfortunately, we haven't so far. Our goal is to win. We practice hard, but other teams do the same. Coming into the game, it's 50-50, not matter what the report says or whatever.''
It helps to have a little perspective, too.
Neild was contemplating a question about trying not to look too far ahead earlier this week, knowing full well the Mountaineers were going to have to win them all if Smith wants that prize to be substantial, when he loaded up on his metaphors.
''There's a little more pressure on us,'' he said. ''Having that loss on our belt puts a burden on our shoulders twice as much as we had.''
Big East Bumblings
Did you know Big East teams have won exactly one game against a team that was ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the kickoff this season? That was Syracuse's victory at West Virginia last week. Cincinnati lost against No. 8 Oklahoma; UConn hasn't played any; Louisville lost at No. 25 Oregon State; Pitt lost at No. 24 Utah and at home to No. 19 Miami; Rutgers hasn't played any; USF lost at No. 8 Florida and at No. 25 West Virginia; Syracuse beat its only ranked foe; and West Virginia lost at No. 15 LSU.
What's worse here? That league teams have beaten just one ranked team (and that was to a Big East team), or that they have played just nine ranked teams?
It's time to ramp up the non-conference schedule, particularly you UConn and Rutgers.
Also last week, not only did West Virginia say goodbye to its 12-game home winning streak, but USF's victory at Cincinnati snapped a 13-game home winning streak for the Bearcats and a 14-game victory streak against Big East foes.
Finally, the closest the league has to a ranked team this week is the AP Poll is Syracuse and West Virginia with eight votes. In the USA Today Poll, WVU has 18 votes, Syracuse three, and in the Harris Interactive Poll, West Virginia has 57, Syracuse 16, and Pitt has one.
Despite all of this, here's a belly laugh in the league's weekly game notes: The Big East is the only Bowl Subdivision conference in which each member has at least three victories.
Word has it, the league leads the country in moral victories, too.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org