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Elliott: Preparing For Bowls Is A Tricky Thing

January 3, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

By the time West Virginia and Clemson flip a commemorative coin to begin the Orange Bowl, 34 days will have passed since the Mountaineers last had the game juices flowing.

That's enough time - 2,937,600 seconds - to lose focus, eligibility via a poor grades, practice too much, not practice enough, or say goodbye to a coach or two.

Not at West Virginia. Not this year anyway.

In the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers distractions have been few and far between.

No, it's been a workmanlike approach, according to quarterback Geno Smith.

''It's been like camp,'' Smith said. ''In actuality, we're going to get a lot better because we have time to focus on just football and everyone's going to have a chance to get better at their craft. We're getting good work in. We're also working in the weight room. Our bodies are going to rest up and you're going to see a very explosive team come Jan. 4.''

There is no tried and true method for preparing for a bowl game. Just ask former Mountaineers coach Don Nehlen, whose teams lost eight straight between the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl and 2000 Music City Bowl.

He tried everything.

WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said the heavy lifting was done in Morgantown and the reward, to an extent, is taking place in Miami.

"You don't want them to enjoy it so much that they are wore out though. It is a tricky balance, but we have a pretty good idea. This is my 13th in a row, so we have had some success and had some positives as well as negatives.''

WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel ultimately thinks these games are won and lost on the field, but he's seen how distractions in the weeks leading up have been a factor.

''I know it's tough,'' he said. ''You're not sure what's going to happen when you have a month layoff. The kids are used to working in week increments, and then they haven't really practiced in two weeks, really, off and on. So, you kinda get out of rhythm.''

There's also the ridiculous amount of time afforded to watch film of the opposition.

''We're going to have our hands full, plus they they're going to have a month to figure out what we don't do well and attack it,'' safeties coach Steve Dunlap said. ''So talking about a game of adjustments, probably your first game of the season is a big game of adjustments, as well as the bowl game, especially with the long layoff. They'll do do things we haven't seen.

''It's hard to get into the head of coaches you don't know. Your traditional guys you play every year, you get a feel for who they are and what they do. Even with the long time off, that helps us.''

So what do you look for?

''What do they like to do after they throw an incomplete? What do they like to do when they're backed up? How many chances will he take? Is he (in this case Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) a trick-play guy? It's an ongoing deal.''

Just as fast as you notice a tendency, the other guys are likely working on changing it, though.

''We still do the same thing we normally do,'' Casteel said. ''We'll look at a great deal of film. The difference is we'll watch a lot more with the kids than what we normally would in a week.

''But you have to be careful you don't give them too much. It still comes down to blocking and tackling. That's what's going to win the game. The basic things in football, that's what it's going to come down to.''