WVU football: Ballroom practice making perfect?
BRONX, N.Y. -- All things considered - and on the first day of on-site preparation for Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl, there were plenty of things to consider - West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen was in a pretty good mood Wednesday.
True, it was Holgorsen who cancelled practice at Fordham University later in the day because he didn't see the purpose of practicing in the windy snowstorm that blew through the metropolitan area. But it was also Holgorsen who said it paid off because WVU actually had a good workout in a ballroom at the team hotel, sheltered from the conditions that dropped snow and sleet all over town.
"I've become a very good weatherman," he said. "I studied that thing pretty hard and I've been right on the last few times."
Syracuse (7-5), which looks to win a third straight against WVU in the 3:15 p.m. ESPN game at Yankee Stadium, fit in a practice early in the morning at Columbia University. Holgorsen's team will practice today, probably outside and with better weather, but it'll be the first practice in a week and the only full-scale practice before the game.
"We probably ought to forfeit," he said.
WVU won't, of course, and players and coaches were pretty satisfied with the way practice went and how the unusual circumstances didn't affect effort. It may have actually helped.
"We were actually able to come up with new things and put different things in even after being away for four days because guys came in very focused," quarterback Geno Smith said.
The Mountaineers also started to move on without second-team all-Big 12 center Joe Madsen, but Holgorsen said he knew last week the senior would miss a second bowl game because of academic problems. Asked if he had a plan in mind, Holgorsen replied, "Yeah."
He wouldn't say who will start in place of Madsen, who started the past 25 games and all 50 in his career.
"That's for me to know and you guys to try to figure out as soon as you possibly can," he said. "I think you understand that as well."
That didn't take long, though. Smith spoke as though starting right guard Jeff Braun would start for the first time at center, which likely means Pat Eger, who lost his starting spot at right tackle after five games, will play right guard.
"The good thing is Braun has actually played center before and he's also practiced there, so it's not a thing where we're unfamiliar with each other," Smith said. "It's just about him moving over one slot and a new guy stepping in there.'
It's hard to blame Holgorsen for wanting to maintain some competitive advantage against an Orange defense that likes to blitz and to stress the offensive line with constant pressure and varying attacks. They rank No. 10 nationally in tackles for a loss per game (7.5) and sacked Smith nine times the previous two games.
"You're trying to cost me some sleep, right, pointing out the obvious?" he said. "It's a very good, well-coached defense that plays hard and plays with tremendous effort. The scheme is tricky because they're going to blitz us a lot. Last year, I think the first 18 blitzes were all different."
Don't count the Mountaineers (7-5) among the worried. The team met for more than 90 minutes before hitting the dance floor and revisited the lessons taught and learned during practices on campus and the mistakes made in the final practice before the break.
The practice inside the ballroom, which Holgorsen said was "slightly smaller" than WVU's indoor facility he rarely uses because it's so small, followed a regular practice script. It wasn't the optimal preparation, but it was more continuation than distraction. That hardest and most important work was done back on campus.
"A long time ago, I was a track coach and we did all our preparation 10 days prior to the state track meet and we did absolutely nothing the week of the meet except go out and break a sweat," said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who said he waited about 12 hours on a plane because of weather in Dallas Tuesday to fly four hours and eventually join the team early Wednesday morning.
"It's all about peaking at the right time. We went really hard through the course of last week. We went extremely hard and practiced at the speed of the game so when we came here it was more mental. You see guys lose the mental part of it when they get to a bowl game because they're going to this event or that event or sightseeing tours or whatever it may be, and they're not physically ready to play."
WVU practiced last week like the game was that Saturday. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said the coaching staff planned previously to simply pick up where they left off once the team made it here.
"All we had to do was reintroduce to them what they know and what we were doing in practice," he said. "If we played (last) Saturday, we felt like we had a great grasp for what we were doing. Now it's just three or four extra days to polish it up. Would we have liked a physical practice (Wednesday)? Yeah, it would have been nice to get out there. But we still have a couple days to get ready."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.