Backyard Brawl Notebook

  • By John Antonik
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  • November 24, 2011 07:43 AM
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First-year West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen admits he’s still catching up on his Backyard Brawl lore. Of course, like anything, the longer he is around here the more he will learn about it – provided the two schools can figure out a way to continue the series when Pitt is off to the ACC and West Virginia goes to the Big 12.

“I have heard about a few,” says Holgorsen, noting one game in particular. “It is more about what happened last week and what we had to do to beat Cincinnati. The longer I am here, the better feel I will have for it. You get conversations of that game and people remind me of what happened in 1980 or 1992. You have to worry about getting your guys ready to play and not what happened in the past.

“That is more fan based and media based.”

His Pitt counterpart, first-year coach Todd Graham, is a little more familiar with the history of the game, although his experience with it was on the other side of the field as a member of Rich Rodriguez’s West Virginia coaching staff. Graham coached in two Backyard Brawls with the Mountaineers in 2001 and 2002.

“We are obviously very excited for this week,” Graham said. “Like I told the players, this is why you coach and why you play – to play in a game like this. Not only because of the rivalry, but the bowl and conference championship implications make it big.”

With Graham and Holgorsen working the sidelines this Friday, it will be the first time since 1966 that the game is featuring two first-year head coaches. Back in ‘66, it was Pitt’s Dave Hart facing off against West Virginia’s Jim Carlen.

And the inexperience of both coaches showed.

West Virginia dominated the game early on only to see Pitt come away with a 17-14 victory – Hart’s lone win that year.

With just 14 seconds left in the first half and the Mountaineers leading 14-7, Carlen had an opportunity to make the Panthers punt a second time from midfield after they were whistled for an illegal procedure penalty. The time it took to punt the football would have been about enough to run out the clock and enable West Virginia to go into the locker room with a touchdown lead at halftime.

Instead, WVU's rookie coach chose to take the ball at his own 3 and try and run out the clock from there. Carlen’s quarterback, Tom Digon, fumbled the ball at the 9 and Pitt had enough time to kick a field goal to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

Later, trailing 17-14, the game ended at the Panther 4 with West Virginia unable to get off another play to either tie or win it. Carlen’s gift field goal and the team’s inability to properly manage the clock cost the Mountaineers a chance for what, then, would have been considered a rare win at Pitt.

Hart’s triumph over West Virginia in 1966 turned out to be a really big deal because his Panther teams only won two more games in his three years there. In the late 60s, Hart’s Panthers were so bad that during one blowout loss to Notre Dame, both sides mutually agreed to let the clock continue to run during the second half.

That’s a true story.


Earlier this week, Holgorsen and Graham both sidestepped questions about a personal rivalry that dates back to their days working in Conference-USA.

Graham explained it this way, “We have always been at rival schools,” he said. “He was at Houston and I was at Tulsa. His background is with Coach Mike Leach. I have tremendous respect for Coach Leach. We have always been fierce competitors.”

Then, he took a different tack.

“I respect this game. I believe this game is about the 2011 West Virginia Mountaineers against the Pitt Panthers. It’s the Backyard Brawl. That is what it should be about,” Graham said.

For his part, Holgorsen says their personal rivalry is completely irrelevant to Friday’s game.

“It is blown out of proportion,” Holgorsen explained. “There are rivalries every week. With me being in a new conference, there isn’t as many every week. I was going up against guys I have known for a decade. I have known Todd for three years. It’s way overblown - it’s about the kids, not the coaches.”

For the record, here are the scores of the three prior Holgorsen-Graham encounters:


By the way, the scores on the left belong to Holgorsen’s teams.


The Backyard Brawl has been reasonably close, the two teams splitting the last four games and West Virginia holding a slim 6-5 advantage since 2000. But when you go back 20 years, the advantage swings heavily in West Virginia’s favor – 13-7.

In fact, that is actually one of the more lopsided advantages by a team involved in some of college football’s most well-known rivalries.

Only Florida (vs. Georgia), Georgia (vs. Georgia Tech), Wisconsin (vs. Minnesota) and Virginia Tech (vs. Virginia) have a wider disparity during the last 20 years in rivalry games.

For those of you sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the enemy, be sure to mention that before passing around seconds.

Most competitive rivalries over the last 20 years (Games only through 2010)

Florida State-Miami (10-10)
Auburn-Georgia (10-9-1, Georgia)
Oklahoma-Texas (10-9-1, Oklahoma)
Florida-Florida State (10-9-1, Florida)
Tennessee-Alabama (10-9-1, Tennessee)
Kansas-Missouri (11-9, Kansas)
USC-UCLA (11-9, USC)
BYU-Utah (11-9, Utah)
Oklahoma-Nebraska (11-9, Nebraska)
Texas-Texas A&M (11-9, Texas)
Auburn-Alabama (11-9, Auburn)
Arizona-Arizona State (11-9, Arizona State)
Mississippi-Mississippi State (11-9 Mississippi State)
Ohio State-Michigan (11-8-1, Ohio State)
USC-Notre Dame (11-8-1, USC)
Indiana-Purdue (13-7 Purdue)
Washington-Washington State (13-7, Washington)
Clemson-South Carolina (13-7, Clemson)
Army-Navy (13-7, Navy)
Lafayette-Lehigh (13-7, Lehigh)
Harvard-Yale (13-7, Harvard)
West Virginia-Pitt (13-7, West Virginia)
Virginia-Virginia Tech (14-6, Virginia Tech)
Minnesota-Wisconsin (16-4, Wisconsin)
Georgia-Georgia Tech (16-4, Georgia)
Florida-Georgia (17-3, Florida)


Another little interesting factoid about the Backyard Brawl: Of the most well-known football rivalries, the WVU-Pitt game is among the closest in geographical distance between the two campuses. Just a 75-mile stretch of Interstate highway separates the two schools, hardly enough of a buffer zone between them.

Here is the mileage distance between some of college football’s biggest rivalries:

USC-UCLA, 15 miles
Lafayette-Lehigh, 17 miles
BYU-Utah, 50 miles
Georgia-Georgia Tech, 69 miles
West Virginia-Pitt, 75 miles
Mississippi-Mississippi State, 98 miles
Indiana-Purdue, 100 miles
Texas-Texas A&M, 107 miles
Arizona-Arizona State, 116 miles
Harvard-Yale, 126 miles
Clemson-South Carolina, 133 miles
Virginia-Virginia Tech, 149 miles
Florida-Florida State, 149 miles
Alabama-Auburn, 161 miles
Kansas-Missouri, 169 miles
Auburn-Georgia, 185 miles
Ohio State-Michigan, 192 miles
Army-Navy, 256 miles
Minnesota-Wisconsin, 268 miles
Washington-Washington State, 287 miles
Alabama-Tennessee, 314 miles
Florida-Georgia, 348 miles
Oklahoma-Texas, 372 miles
Nebraska-Oklahoma, 449 miles
Florida State-Miami, 480 miles
USC-Notre Dame, 2,103 miles

Many thanks to Julie Brown, Brian Kuppelweiser and Grant Dovey for their research assistance.


Dana Holgorsen, Todd Graham, Backyard Brawl