The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 24, 2010

Sanders confident in WVU

MORGANTOWN — Can it be that only four months have passed since that morning in Providence, R.I., can it be that so much has been crammed into so little time?

Football season has come and now it is in its dying days, at least the regular season, since the Big East gathered for its media day. It was a time of hopes and dreams, when everyone was undefeated and the warm sea air blowing off the Atlantic Ocean making everyone a bit giddy.

It was thought, at the time, that perhaps the lobster that had made West Virginia running back Noel Devine so ill that he could not attend interviews had somehow passed on to affect his Mountaineer running mate Jock Sanders.

How else could you explain why, on this particular day with the nation’s media there, he choose to go off on a bit of tirade after noting that Pitt Panthers had been selected as the preseason choice to win the Big East with West Virginia tied for second with Cincinnati.

“It’s like we’re off the face of the earth, we’re not here anymore,” he said then. “That’s a lot of motivation and we talk a lot amongst ourselves as a football family about how we’re not getting the respect that we should. But that’s the thing that motivates us each and every time we go on the field to try and make ourselves better.”

The comment echoed through the media in Pittsburgh, even though Sanders’ teammate, linebacker J.T. Thomas echoed the thought.

“Being that we beat Pitt last year and we have a lot of guys coming back, you would think that things would look a little bit differently, but it’s fine for them to be the frontrunners,” he said. “We have to play them this season, as will every other team in the Big East, so it all sorts itself out. I don’t get too hung up over all the polls and rankings because it’s all said and done on the football field.”

Now, the time for words is over and the two teams meet on Friday at high noon in Heinz Field, the preseason prediction still looking right as Pitt has but one conference defeat and WVU two, but it will all be settled on the field.

As Thomas now says, “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning and losing.”

No more than seven feet from where Thomas sat as he spoke about the end of the day, Jock Sanders sat speaking about the beginning of the season, about the comment he made and about why he made it and what he actually meant.

“I already knew what it meant,” he said. “There was a purpose behind it. The championship comes through West Virginia. Pitt may be in first place, but it hasn’t been settled yet.”

As you can see, Sanders was taking none of it back. He didn’t hide behind saying people misinterpreted it, didn’t hide behind saying he was misquoted and he didn’t take back the thought that his Mountaineers are the better team and in the end will beat out Pitt.

“I will say things on purpose if there’s a truth to it. You don’t say stuff like that unless there’s a truth to it at the end. The team we have, the way we can play, the truth will show at the end,” he said.

He understands that it was scoffed at in some circles, the bold comment that the pollsters had it wrong.

He doesn’t care, because it is what he believes, just as it was that he believed the West Virginia defense is so good that he could say if the offense put 21 points on the board you could mark it down as a victory.

“I’ll bet people were saying I was crazy early in the year when I said if we score 21 points you can put it in the books, we’ll win. Well, it’s there. All we have to do is score 21 and we win. Our defense is that strong,” he said, noting that no other team in America has managed to give up no more than 21 points at least once. “You don’t want to talk just to talk. It has to have a meaning to it.”

Sanders does say that he was somewhat misunderstood in what he was saying about Pitt.

“I’m sure they didn’t like it in Pitt. I heard they wrote something about it up there, but I wasn’t saying it that way,” he said. “What I was saying was with this conference being so balanced, how can you just give it to a team that lost to us and lost to Cincinnati? I wasn’t trying to down talk them at all. I congratulate them for being where they are now.”

Indeed, the situation is that if Pitt can beat WVU, it eliminates the Mountaineers from the Big East championship race and forces them into a minor bowl. But Sanders, who sitting on a doorstep to the record book in this game, needing one catch to become the school’s all-time leading receiver, believes that won’t happen.

Call it swagger, if you must.

“You got to rub on that magic genie. That’s what I was doing, rubbing on that magic genie,” he said. “Every team should have a swagger. That’s the way we have to play around here. We lost three games within seven points. Those are games we feel should have won. We should be 9-0 or 10-0, but we still have everything in front of us.”

Now all the Mountaineers have to do is go up to Pittsburgh and win.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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