Column - Crowd could be factor for Mountaineers
Published: Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 16, 2011 01:09
Saturday will be a day full of firsts for the 2011 West Virginia football team.
It will be the first time the team will play an opponent from a BCS conference. And it will be the first time West Virginia will play an FBS opponent that had a winning record in 2010. But, most importantly, Saturday will be their first road game of the season.
Let's be honest – the Mountaineers are full of inexperienced and young players on both sides of the football. Combine that with a new head coach, a quarterback in a new offense and a hostile environment that could cause problems.
Maryland is coming off a victory at home against Miami and had 12 days to prepare for the Mountaineers. The Terps haven't played a team this highly ranked at home since 2008 and expect their fans to be ready for the border-rival opponent. In the opener against Miami, Maryland tallied their seventh largest crowd in Byrd Stadium's history. It was the largest crowd since 2007, coincidentally, the last time the Mountaineers traveled to College Park, Md..
In fact, two of the five largest crowds at Byrd Stadium have come when Maryland hosted West Virginia.
I asked freshman running back Vernard Roberts earlier this week if any preparation was being made for the expected crowd noise.
"No, we're going to treat it as a home game," Roberts said. "We're going to come out there and try to execute plays, start fast and go in and get a victory."
The West Virginia offense includes three freshmen running backs and no one from the right side offensive line has ever started a game on the road.
So I had to ask another young player the same question, if any preparation had been made for crowd noise.
"Not really, it's just another game," said freshman running back Dustin Garrison.
Yes, I know Byrd Stadium isn't one of the largest or loudest facilities in college football. The Mountaineers have played at places such as Auburn and LSU in the last couple of years. But the Terrapins have been able to post a respectable 46-19 record at home over the past 10 seasons—A win percentage near 71 percent.
Let us not forget – this will also be the first time head coach Dana Holgorsen will lead his team onto a field other than Milan Puskar Stadium.
After the first two home games, Holgorsen said quarterback Geno Smith has missed some signals from the sidelines. This is something that needs to be fixed before the Mountaineers take the field Saturday.
With the third-ranked Louisiana State Tigers next on the schedule and the possibility of ESPN's "College Gameday" making a trip to Morgantown, it is easy to think the team may be glancing slightly past the Terrapins. This occurred just last week when the Mountaineers didn't respect their opponent (Norfolk State) and found themselves trailing at halftime to an FCS opponent.
Having said all this, I still believe West Virginia will return on Interstate 68 with a victory, but they must play mistake-free football to do so.
The Terrapins will be wearing their all-black uniforms. They are fresh off of a nine-win season and will be lead by first-year head coach Randy Edsall.
The crowd will be electric and thirsty for an upset over their Maryland counterparts.
A fast start for the Mountaineers will be potent to take the crowd out of the game, early. And, a slow start would amplify the crowd even more and could spell disaster on Saturday.