MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Head coach Neal Brown held his usual Tuesday press conference on a Monday this week, as he and the Mountaineers have their regular schedule changed due to Thursday night’s rivalry clash in Blacksburg.
WVU will take on its second long-time rival of the season in primetime, under the lights at Lane Stadium. It’s the first matchup between the Mountaineers and Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg since 2004.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Brown’s time with the media ahead of the contest.
Teaching the rivalry
Unlike the season opener against Pittsburgh, plenty of players on the WVU roster have suited up against the Hokies while playing for the Mountaineers. Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, Dante Stills, Taijh Alston, and others played a part in West Virginia’s 27-21 victory over the Hokies in Morgantown last season.
With that being the case, many players on the roster know the history of the rivalry, and what it means to the fan base. But, that doesn’t mean that history is not being taught this week in the lead-up to the contest.
“The rivalry is definitely one that is very important to our fan base. The guys that played in the game last year felt that, being here in our stadium,” said Brown. “This is the only game on our schedule in the regular season where we play for a trophy. So, the Black Diamond Trophy, I think that makes it even more special.”
With this year’s Battle for the Black Diamond Trophy being played just five days after WVU defeated Towson on Saturday, there is less time to teach the rivalry than there would be during a normal week. Brown stated that the coaching staff spoke with the team about the rivalry on Sunday. Those conversations were set to continue Monday.
Former Virginia Tech transfer Doug Nester is also being called on to describe the atmosphere of Lane Stadium.
Woods injury update
Top cornerback Charles Woods will not be available to play on Thursday.
Brown said that Woods is ruled out for the game, and could be sidelined for “a couple weeks” after having surgery last week.
“It’s kind of a unique surgery,” Brown added. “We’re hopeful, he’s hopeful, that he’ll be back. But it’s not a normal injury, it’s a unique injury.”
Woods has been sidelined since being helped off the field in the first half of the Backyard Brawl on Sept. 1. The senior corner will continue to rehab his lower-body injury with the hope of returning to action this season.
“We’re hopeful, and like I said, he’s hopeful to be back,” said the head coach. “It’ll be a couple weeks from now, though.”
Working on a short week
West Virginia will play on a Thursday night for the second time this season. However, unlike the season opener when the team had a full month the prepare, the Mountaineers have just five days to get ready for the Hokies.
Brown acknowledged that part of the preparation for the Virginia Tech game started last week.
Players, of course, could not begin recovering from Saturday’s win over Towson until after the game was over. The message became clear as soon as the team returned to the locker room after singing Country Roads.
“You talk about it from a physical well-being standpoint, and we talked about the hydration piece and making sure you’re eating, make sure you’re resting to prepare for Monday, today, because we knew that would be our work day,” Brown said.
The fourth-year head coach stated that he and the program make recovery aids mandatory when needed, provided players can stay within the 20-hour rule limit.
“I know a bunch of guys were in the float tank yesterday and today. That really helps rejuvenate you,” Brown said. “That stuff definitely helps. It definitely helps. We had mandatory recovery yesterday.”
The head coach pointed out that West Virginia and Virginia Tech will enter the game in similar scenarios. Both teams played, and beat, FCS opponents at home on Saturday, meaning both teams had the same amount of time to prepare for one another.
“I don’t think it’s as much of a factor this week because they’re doing the same thing,” Brown said of the short week schedule. “I think it’s pretty equal.”
The only thing that is not equal is that the Mountaineers will travel to Blacksburg, whereas Hokies players will not have to leave campus. Brown stated the team will have another workout and recovery period before taking off on Wednesday.
Last year means (next to) nothing
In preparation for Thursday’s matchup in Lane Stadium, the Mountaineer coaching staff has watched the tape from last season’s victory over the Hokies.
However, given the offseason coaching change that the Virginia Tech program underwent, there is a limit on how useful last year’s tape is for WVU.
“You kind of go back and just look at it from a personnel (standpoint), just look at matchups,” Brown said. “Really, schematically, under a new staff, all three phases are different.”
Instead, the Mountaineers will lean heavily on watching Virginia Tech’s first three games of this season. That includes a Week One loss to Old Dominion, followed by a pair of victories by at least three scores.
Not only is Virginia Tech different on the sidelines compared to last season, but they are also different at quarterback, and other positions on the field, as well.