We are moving on to the next opponent. We just had a small practice out there with the guys. We switched the schedule up a little bit based on it being Thanksgiving week. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. This is the best week of the year for a college football team. Being able to eliminate distractions is good. With not having school, it makes it easier from a scheduling point of view. Being able to get these guys up here every morning is good. We feed them a little bit more than we normally can. We meet, lift, practice and try to get them out of here at a decent time. It sets up well, considering that this game is a noon kick. We should be used to noon kicks at this point. I think it works out well this week from a scheduling point of view. Growing up, being able to watch these games on Thanksgiving is a great time of the year. Our guys are excited about being bowl eligible. We won three games in a row, and we have two more opportunities ahead of us. We are going to keep moving forward, and hopefully, we keep improving and win some ball games.
Overall, we are as healthy as we have been all year. Everyone is healthy right now. Other than (senior safety) Karl (Joseph), everyone should be available to go this week. A couple of guys missed some time in the game, but part of that was that we were able to do it. Based on how the beginning part of the game, we were comfortable with playing 60 some bodies. I think the total number was 62. Almost everyone that traveled, played. It was good to get those guys out there. We are pretty healthy right now, and we are looking forward to a pretty good week.
Iowa State. Obviously, we understand what the situation is there. It is their football program. It doesn’t affect us at all. I don’t think it will affect them at all, as far as how they play. The one thing that I have always admired (Iowa State head coach) Paul Rhoads for was getting his team ready to play and never quit. It doesn’t matter who they are playing. It doesn’t matter where they are playing. It doesn’t matter what their record is. Their team always keeps playing. They have always played with effort, and they have continued to play throughout the course of this season. I will anticipate this game to be no different. I expect them to show up, and if anything, we have to be on guard for a trick or two. They are a program that does that anyways. They fake a lot of stuff. They take chances on special teams. They do some trickery stuff on offense, and they take some chances on defense as well. It really doesn’t change a whole lot with our preparation and what we are going to expect.
Offensively, (offensive coordinator/passing game coordinator) Todd Sturdy does a great job taking over their offense about six games ago. They made the quarterback switch with (redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel) Lanning. I think he is a really good player. He sits in the pocket, and he has good mobility. He throws the ball. He is accurate. He has a strong arm. They have three or four receivers that are really good players. They are big dudes. It is the same guys that we played against last year with the addition of (redshirt senior wide receiver Quenton) Bundrage. He was hurt last year. He is a really good player. The freshman back (redshirt freshman running back Mike) Warren is a difference maker. He is the top three or four in the conference. He rushes over a 100 yards a game. He is a good player. There are a bunch of seniors on the o-line. Five of their six guys up front, including their tight end, are all seniors. It is the same guys that we have faced the past several years. They are moving the ball well, and they are doing a good job offensively. They typically start fast, and they jump up on some teams. They have pretty much each and every game, so we will be expecting them to start fast and not quit throughout the course of the game.
Defensively, it is the same guys that they have had coaching wise. They have switched up their scheme a little bit, but they have done that since game one this year. Typical Iowa State defense. They are very sound. They don’t take a ton of chances and mix things up too much, but they are very sound in what they do. They have a couple of new faces mixed in with a lot of the older guys that have played over the last couple of years. We have had very competitive games against them, and our offense has their work cut out for them. We have to figure out what these guys have going on.
Special teams is solid in every phase. From top to bottom, they are as good as any special teams that we have faced all year. The one that stands out is their punt return. They are averaging third in the country or something like that. They have a couple of good guys back there. Their scheme has been problematic over the last several years. They put two guys back there, and they try to spread you from sideline to sideline. They do a good job with that. Their coverage units are really good. Their punt team covers well. Their kickoff team covers well. Like I said, they take some changes, so we need to be on high alert with that.
That is kind of the initial thoughts with Iowa State. I am looking forward to a good day for our seniors. There will be a lot of talk about these guys, and what they have done for the program for the last four years. This senior class was instrumental in the transition into the Big 12. These guys have been there from day one of Big 12 play. It is our job as coaches and the other players to put those seniors in a position to be able to enjoy their senior day. One last time on Mountaineer Field is going to be very important to these guys. It’s going to be important to me to send them out on top with a victory. We want to sing country roads in the stadium one last time. That gives us plenty of motivation to prepare and play the right way.
On how Iowa State starts off fast and what teams have to do in order to be able to do that
I don’t know. Momentum is a good one on that. You have to capitalize on it. If you knew the answer, then everyone would do it. I don’t know what the answer is. There have been some games where we started fast. There have been some games where we had to settle in before we got going. You have to prepared, and you have to be in the right frame of mind. You have to catch some early breaks and capitalize on it with some momentum. I don’t know if there is a magic formula.
On if the offensive coordinator switch has changed what they have done
No, you can’t really change things too much. You have to keep rolling with what you are doing. Maybe it’s called a little differently. They look relatively the same. I have studied their offense against Texas Tech, Kansas and TCU earlier in the year when we were preparing for those teams. Iowa State had already played them. They were one of the games that we would focus on. They are pretty similar to what we do. They have 11 personnel and play two backs, and then they will go 10 personnel and throw and run the ball. They are pretty similar with what we do offensively. I have a history with their coordinator (offensive coordinator/passing game coordinator Todd Sturdy). We have talked a lot. I think he has done a good job with them.
On his reaction to Paul Rhoads circumstances
I was surprised. I don’t understand why it has to happen at this point, but we are obviously more worried about what is going on here. (Iowa State head coach) Paul (Rhoads) is a good football coach. The head coaches hang out a little bit at different meetings and venues. I have never worked with him, but he is a great guy. He is a good football coach. He brings a lot of energy to their team. He is extremely competitive, and he is a fiery guy. It is just part of the profession. This year seems to be pretty tough for a lot of coaches, but it won’t affect what we are doing. We will keep moving forward, and they are the next team on the schedule that we have to prepare for.
On if he addressed the firing of Iowa State’s head coach Paul Rhoads to the players
No, it is not something that affects us. You can say that it is not fair or whatever it is, but what’s happening there is going to happen there. My job is to give our team information and what they need to prepare to win the game this Saturday. We have already met and talked about it, but it’s not going to be brought up again. It doesn’t need to be brought up to them with you all. It doesn’t affect what they do.
On preparing for the emotions of the Iowa State team
That was my purpose in talking to them. We met this morning, and we practiced. Then we met again on the field. We understand that we need to be on high alert for them doing different things. They don’t have to be as cautious as some teams would be. We have to be on high alert for that. We have to be ready for anything. It’s part of the preparation in getting ready to play a football game.
On redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shelton Gibson’s hit against Kansas
He’s fine. It’s the first time he ever was hit like that. I went out there and kind of looked at him. I said ‘what’s wrong?’ He said that ‘I never been hit like that.’ I told him to get up, and he did. He was fine. He was good out there today.
On redshirt freshman offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste
He practiced today. He should be closer. At this point, I doubt he can get into the starting lineup because of the switch and (redshirt freshman offensive lineman) Marcell (Lazard) playing well. (Redshirt senior offensive lineman) Marquis (Lucas) is playing well, but having the depth is important.
On redshirt senior offensive lineman Marquis Lucas playing the most snaps
He looked really bad giving up that one sack. (Redshirt senior offensive lineman) Marquis (Lucas) is one of my favorite guys. He’s been here for a long time. He is going on his fifth year. He is a fifth year senior. He is an inspirational guy. He has a lot of energy. I am proud of the player that he has turned into. He has been a two-year starter now. That is what you really want out of a linemen. There are guys that are ready to play early and that is kind of rare. He is going to get his degree in December, and I know he wants to play in the NFL. He will have that opportunity, and he will leave an alumni of West Virginia University. I am proud of where he is at.
On what he told junior running back Wendell Smallwood after he scored a touchdown
I said I’m glad you can score. He said he knew he could score all along, and I told him to do it more. I think he did it one more time after that.
On junior running back Wendell Smallwood rushing 1,200 yards through 10 games
I didn’t know he had the ability to do it consistently like that. I didn’t know we were going to be averaging 50 rushes a game either. What we are doing offensively has helped (junior running back) Wendell (Smallwood) as well. I knew he was a great back. That’s why I brought him to media days. For him to do it consistently over 10 games has been fun to watch. I am proud of him for that. There is no reason to think that he is not going to continue to do that. The versatility is what has always stood out with him. Being a run between the tackles guys has diminished some of those ways that we used him, because we didn’t have too. He’s been able to handle it. It hasn’t turned out exactly like I thought it would, but I am not surprised with his success at all.
On competing for a conference title in the future
Absolutely. We have to continue to run the ball effectively, but we have to continue to get better with our intermediate passing game. We missed four over the top throws. The wind has something to do with it. You can say it does, and you can say it doesn’t. It does. I told (junior quarterback) Skyler (Howard) that he can’t overthrow (redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shelton Gibson) No. 1 or (freshman wide receiver Jovon Durante) No. 5. He hasn’t done that all year, but he had that wind behind him and those things sails. To be able to ground it out like we have here recently makes a difference in being able to win those games. Then you are going to have those times where you have to hit those big plays and be good in the intermediate passing game. We are not where I feel like we should be or will be when it comes to that.
On how he would characterize the senior class
They are committed more than anything. They are committed to WVU. They are committed to being a Mountaineer. They are committed to this program. They are proud with where they are at, and they are a tight knit senior class. Twenty years from now, you will see a lot of these guys coming back and hanging out together. They are resilient from overcoming some of the injuries that they have overcame. That was big. They are the inspiration for our whole team right now. They are backbone. They went through coaching changes and conference transitions, and they have developed the program. It’s meant a lot to them. It’s meant a lot to me that they stuck it out, and they never wavered. They have continued to work their tail off each and every day. I am proud of this class.
On what the team is doing for Thanksgiving
There are different things. We will go to a movie tomorrow to do something as a group. We will have a family thanksgiving dinner here on Wednesday. Coaches and families will be here as well. I let them go where they want to on Thursday. Some of them will go home. They will have about 24 hours off from Thursday to Friday when we reconvene. Our Friday schedule will be the same. A lot of them will go home, and a lot of them will have their own dinners. All the coaches will have their own dinners, and players will go to different houses and stuff like that. Everyone will have a place to go. We will have our own dinner on Wednesday. I want to let guys go, and if they want to go, they can go. Friday it’s back to work. Business as usual.
On preventing players from outside distractions
There is nothing going on here. If you are going to worry about that, then you have to worry about that every day. Our guys are pretty tuned into what this week means. All of their families will be coming in on Thursday or Friday, so they will have a little bit of extra time to spend with their families. Obviously, Saturday is senior day. They will be able to spend time with them on Saturday as well, and then Sunday we will be back to work. We have another game after that.