Column - WVU needs to find road identity
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2011 01:10
It's been more than a month since the West Virginia football team has played a road game.
The Sept. 17 trip to Maryland seems like a very long time ago. And, since it was such an isolated example, there hasn't been much opportunity for this team to develop a road identity.
In the month since the 37-31 victory over the Terrapins, the Mountaineers have shot up the polls and now rank No. 11 in the country.
With Friday night's matchup at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., West Virginia will be put to the test in arguably one of the toughest environments in the Big East Conference.
Since 2008, West Virginia has lost 13 games – 10 of which have come outside of Milan Puskar Stadium. While it is inherently tougher to play a road game than a home game, there is something to be said of the frequency with which the Mountaineers' losses have come on the road.
Adding to the difficulty of preparing for this particular game is the unorthodox day it takes place. An 8 p.m. kickoff on a Friday is out of the ordinary for both players and coaches.
You may remember the last time West Virginia played a Friday night road game, things didn't exactly go smoothly.
It took a herculean fourth quarter effort led by then-sophomore quarterback Geno Smith and a missed Marshall field goal in overtime to escape with a 24-21 victory. That early season road test last year showed the lack of a road presence for the team at that point.
To find consistent success on the road, it is essential for a team to find its own, unique road identity.
LSU head coach Les Miles mentioned his team's ability to find that early in the season as a primary factor behind the success they have had up to this point.
After beating three top 25 opponents on the road in the first month of the season, I'd say he is on to something.
So what are some ways that West Virginia can establish a road identity this week as they travel to Syracuse?
It's true that the typical routines players and coaches are accustomed to are interrupted when going on a road trip. Keeping things simple and staying rested and relaxed is necessary to finding success come game time.
It is important each player seeks out an individual routine. This is not a new concept to them, and it's something they have probably been doing since high school.
Choosing what to wear on the bus, what music to listen to, what way to mentally prepare for the game, when to stay loose and when to tweet or study game notes are all factors that vary by the player.
Luckily, the coaches structure most of the time the team spends on the road. Detailed itineraries, catered food and what to do with downtime can all be carefully scheduled to ensure members of the team
are preparing in a similar fashion.
Once the team arrives at the stadium, the hope is that pre-game preparations can carry on much in the same way they do when West Virginia is playing a home game.
While the locker room, facilities and field are all different, keeping stretches, warm-up drills and walk-throughs the same is possible.
Most importantly in developing the road identity is the attitude the team takes on as a whole. How will the team handle crowd noise? Will players be able to stay focused in a different stadium? Will the coaches keep everyone calm if things get off to a slow start?
That's why all the lessons and experiences West Virginia has on the road this Friday need to be captured for a road identity that can be replicated as the team moves forward.
Figuring out how to handle crowd noise, hotel rooms and pregame routines is essential to finding continued success on the road.
The trip to Syracuse is the first true opportunity to develop a road identity for this team. With four of the team's six remaining games on the road, it is important to utilize this road trip as a building block for future trips.
By finding a routine, eliminating distractions and – most importantly – winning, the Mountaineers can take the first step to establishing a road identity that will carry on for the rest of conference play and into bowl season.