ORLANDO, Fla. – If anyone knows what will be going through Pat Miller’s head on Tuesday night when West Virginia plays NC State in the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl it’s Keith Tandy.
Miller is replacing starting cornerback Brandon Hogan in this year’s game after Hogan seriously injured his knee returning a punt against Rutgers in the regular season finale. Tandy was put in a similar situation two years ago in the Meineke Car Care Bowl when Hogan was not able to go against North Carolina.
The only difference is that Tandy was much wetter behind the ears in 2008, going into that game having played about 20 total plays for the season. This year, Miller has considerably more playing experience having been in on roughly 180 plays, including a season-high 61 plays against UNLV.
“He already knows what it’s about,” said Tandy.
Tandy remembers what it was like getting thrown to the wolves as a freshman against North Carolina. Hakeem Nicks, now with the New York Giants, caught three touchdown passes in the first half and appeared to be well on his way to rewriting the NCAA record book. But Tandy regrouped after halftime and shut down Nicks in the second half once secondary coach Dave Lockwood was able to settle him down. Tandy says a cornerback dealing with too much information is never a good thing.
“If you try and process too much stuff then your head just starts flying around and you get confused about what you’re going to do and it’s too hard to settle down,” Tandy said.
Because of that, Tandy says he will limit the advice he gives Miller.
“We have been talking to him, giving him tips on what we’ve seen in games and what we’ve seen earlier,” Tandy said. “Mainly it’s just to calm him down and slow him down.
“You don’t want to be on him too much,” Tandy said. “You might put too much pressure on him and make him nervous.”
Miller got a start earlier this year against Maryland and like most first-time starters he struggled, giving up a pair of long touchdown passes to Torrey Smith. Miller says he’s a better player because of it.
“To me that was a learning process,” Miller said. “Now I know, hey, just go out there and play. Everybody is trying to make plays – just don’t let them make plays on me.”
“He had some trouble there but he bounced back,” added Tandy.
Miller will also get help from redshirt freshman Brodrick Jenkins, who has been involved in just about as many plays as Miller has. Jenkins, like Miller, is just now really starting to get adjusted to the college game.
“The beginning of the year I didn’t know how fast the speed of the game was, but as far as being comfortable, I know when things are coming now,” Jenkins said.
And both of them are well aware of the fact that passes will be coming their way. The Wolfpack has a pair of good receivers in Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, the two having combined to catch 103 passes for more than 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They’ve got some receivers that can do different things,” said Tandy. “They’ve got two or three that can really run that remind me of (Alric) Arnett when he played for us. You’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Tandy believes the most important thing for young corners to pay attention to is their fundamentals, particularly when facing a mobile quarterback such as NC State’s Russell Wilson.
“You can be too careless when you see a quarterback running around like that,” he said. “When you have a quarterback who runs around you don’t want to see too much extra stuff – you want to take care of your assignment and hopefully your teammates will take care of their assignments, too.”
Because Wilson will take off when receivers are initially covered, Tandy says it will be critical for DBs to stick their men until Wilson crosses the line of scrimmage.
“Coach Lock is telling us to stay in coverage as long as possible and make sure he crosses,” said Tandy. “You never know what’s going to happen. You see him back there scrambling behind the line of scrimmage and then he will stop, pop up, and throw the ball 50 yards down the field so you’ve got to be ready at all times.”
According to Miller, West Virginia’s defensive line and linebackers can help them greatly by applying pressure to Wilson.
“With the D-line that we’ve got I know they will put pressure on the quarterback and make him throw the ball quicker and have him off-time,” said Miller. “The D-line and the linebackers are a big part of that.”
Of equal importance is having a pair of confident corners. Tentative cornerbacks are a recipe for disaster. The players all agree that Lockwood does a great job of boosting their confidence.
“That man is a genius,” said Jenkins. “He’s helped me out so much this year. He’s really been like a father as far as when people want to know what is this and what is that … they come to him because he’s going to tell you the right thing and he’s going to motivate you to do it.”
That includes giving his players encouragement and support when passes are completed on them. He says it happens to everyone –even the very best in the game.
“He says playing cornerback you’re going to get beat – everybody does playing this position,” said Tandy. “Sometimes you even get beat for a touchdown, but you’ve just got to forget about it and go back out and make a play next time.”
“Every play you have to forget because the next one is coming,” added Miller. “You can make a good play and get scored on the next one. You can get caught on one play and then make an interception on the next one.”
Jenkins says they will be ready when the lights come on Tuesday night in the Florida Citrus Bowl.
“We can play,” he said. “It’s just our confidence level. It’s just being able to listen to Coach Lock, being prepared, and doing everything right.” Briefly:
- Be sure to watch tonight’s Mountaineers360 Champs Sports Bowl Special at 7 p.m. on stations throughout West Virginia. Markets carrying the 30-minute show include Charleston/Huntington (WCHS), Oak Hill/Beckley/Bluefield (WOAY), Clarksburg (WVFX), Wheeling (WTOV) and Parkersburg (My 5).
WJAL in Chambersburg, Pa. (Martinsburg market) will air the show at 7:30 p.m.
- The team will have its walk-through later this afternoon after attending a Champs Sports Bowl Luncheon at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando.