Oh it seems like it has been a month since West Virginia has played a football game. It hasn't, just seems that way. Anyhow, the Mountaineers get back into things with tomorrow's game against old friend Butch Jones and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Mountaineer Field. Lots and lots of things to pay attention to --- but let me try to narrow the list to five for you.
Here we go:
1. Layoffs! Oh yes, there could be a rust factor. But, that said, it could impact both teams, as West Virginia and Cincinnati are coming off an open week and are mired in the throes of two-game conference losing streaks. Now, the main thing one sees with a layoff is a failure to be sharp on offense, particularly in the passing game --- as anyone who watched the UConn and Pitt game on Thursday night can attest to. The Panthers were coming off a layoff, and their passing game did not look crisp, at all. Pay special attention to how Zach Collaros and Geno Smith play, especially early on in this one, as both passing attacks could be sloppy and the timing off a bit.
2. Inside information: By now, everyone knows that Butch Jones was a former assistant under Rich Rodriguez in Morgantown. During his stint as receivers coach, Jones was saddled with the task, every day, of working at least a few periods of practice against the top-flight guys (in a ones-vs.-ones period) that Jeff Casteel had to offer. One has to wonder how much Jones remembers from those days and precisely how he will apply it to his gameplan. As many know, playing against Casteel's 3-3-5 stack is tremendously taxing. But, could Jones have an edge because he's been inside West Virginia's practices for a few years?
3. Grip it tighter: Much has been made of the case of fumbleitis that running back Ryan Clarke came down with in East Hartford in the Mountaineers' loss against UConn. Don't forget, this is the same player who also had a key fumble in Baton Rouge against LSU. Now, is Clarke going to let this get to his head for the rest of the season? For the rest of his career? Will a change need to be made at short-yardage back? Or, will he be able to shake it off and move forward and cure that fumbleitis problem himself, without it taking a benching from the coaching staff?
4. In the mix: Now that Pitt lost to UConn, the Mountaineers have a rekindled hope of doing some bigger things this season. It by no means erases the shortcomings in the first eight games of the season, but it really does squeeze this thing into a four-game season. There is no question many of the West Virginia players watched the Pitt game on Thursday night, saw the Panthers lose. Because of that, because of the renewed hope that a BCS bid (while a longshot) is still a possibility, will this band of Mountaineers come out of the field differently against the Bearcats?
5. Take a seat: Earlier in the week, I set the over/under of butts in the seats at Mountaineer Field for this game at 52,898. This is something that should intrigue fans of this program, because there is no better way to gauge support (and we all know the current staff is under fire) than to take a look into the stands. When people are frustrated, they stop spending money, they stop coming to games. Pitt's loss might force a few people who were on the fence to head to Mountaineer Field on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see the student turnout and, also, exactly how many empty seats there are. Believe me, Oliver Luck is noticing.