ORLANDO, Fla. – After spending yesterday at Universal Studios, West Virginia went back to work Saturday afternoon in preparation for next Tuesday’s Champs Sports Bowl meeting against NC State at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said his players and coaches are locked in and concentrating on the task at hand.
“I am focused, this staff is focused and the team if focused,” he said before practice on Saturday.
Stewart mentioned that his offensive staff has had to do some juggling along the offensive line to compensate for the loss of starting center Joe Madsen. He believes the adjustments won’t be that big of a deal because the players filling in are all experienced.
“Eric Jobe will be our starting center. (John) Bassler will have a chance to get in there as well as (Jeff) Braun. Cole Bowers will start at the right guard and there will be a chance of Bassler getting in there, too. You’ve just got to pick up the saber and march on.”
Quarterback Geno Smith, the guy perhaps most impacted by the ajustments, doesn’t think things will be that different because he has worked with Jobe in the past and Jobe typically spends a good portion of practice each day snapping anyway.
“Joe Madsen is my guy but we have Eric Jobe and I’m pretty familiar with him at center,” Smith said. “They alternate during practice so it’s not something that we’re new to. Jobe is a good center, so I feel good that we are going to have guys fill in and do well.”
Smith also pointed out that Bowers has starting experience this year against high quality competition.
“He started down at LSU so I am confident we are going to have some guys step up and play well,” he explained.
Smith and Stewart both believe it is important for the team to make the most of these next two days of practice.
“We’ve had some days off and now we’ve got to get back into the groove of things,” Smith said. “We understand that we’ve got a big game coming up and we’ve got to get our minds right and get prepared to play a tough game.”
“We’ll play this game to win and we’ll play this game like we have the last four weeks,” added Stewart. “Hopefully Noel (Devine) and Jock (Sanders) and our seniors will be in the position to have big games. We’re going to try and win the football game, regardless of the personnel.”
- Stewart has made a conscious effort not to grind his players in order to keep them fresh for next Tuesday’s game against NC State. He wants sharp, quick practices and his players’ minds mentally alert leading up to the game.
“We’re going to go good on good today and we’re going to hit today just as we did back home - and they’re going to run today,” he said of today’s practice. “I’ve got to watch because they were on their legs all day yesterday.”
- Stewart said his team will not change what it does offensively with the adjustments being made along the offensive line.
- Noel Devine said before today’s practice that his ankle is “about 85 percent” since the end of the regular season. He believes the offense will get a tremendous test against NC State’s nationally ranked defense next Tuesday.
“NC State has a great linebacker corps and we’re going to see what our offense is made of,” he said.
Stewart is also extremely impressed with NC State’s defensive front and linebackers.
“They’re strong, physical and fast,” he said. “I’ve watched them knock back opposing ACC teams – knock them in the backfield. Their linebackers come downhill like we do. Irving in the middle is just a tremendous force and that front seven is very, very tough. They are going to be very difficult to run the ball against.”
On the other side of the ball, Stewart said the Wolfpack possess impressive size there as well.
“They are big, tall, strong guys,” he said. “(Russell) Wilson just bounces around back there. You put a tape on and his first 8-10 plays are passes or runs by him. Then all of a sudden they hand the zone off to trick you.”
Stewart believes first down might be the most important down for his defense against NC State on Tuesday.
“(Wilson is) the guy that sets the tempo and it’s not so much about stopping the run is we have to stop them from making hay on first down,” he said. “If we do that and get them off schedule and out of rhythm then we have a chance.”
- West Virginia’s defensive players have mentioned that Wilson has a great stiff arm when he breaks out into the open field and it will be important for them to use good fundamentals when attempting to tackle him.
- Wilson has attempted more than 60 passes in NC State’s final game of the regular season against Maryland and he has also tried more than 50 passes in back-to-back games against Boston College and East Carolina. Because he throws so much conditioning could be an issue for West Virginia’s defensive linemen that have to chase him.
- Following today’s practice the team ate dinner tonight at Sea World and then will have one more tough practice on Sunday before tapering off for Tuesday’s game. Stewart likened today’s practice to Wednesday practice during a normal game week.
- Look for Jed Drenning's five questions for the Champs Sports Bowl on Sunday morning.