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November 1, 2011

Coaches: No added pressure in WVU-UL

MORGANTOWN — In football, you really have two separate universes.

There is first, and certainly most importantly, the university in which the coaches and teams reside, a universe that is looked upon as rather dull and routine to those who reside in the other universe, for the football universe is by necessity a straight-laced, highly-regulated one.

The other universe, conversely, is the opposite, made up of fans connected across the world by the legitimate media and the social media, both of whom are seeking to make far more out of a simple football game than really does exist.

In the case of this Saturday’s noon game in Milan Puskar Stadium that pits West Virginia against Louisville, the coaches see it for what it is ... an important Big East game that neither side can afford to lose.

The outside universe, however, assigns it far more value, wanting to turn it into a culture clash, a revenge game between the West Virginia team that was able to escape the insanity that was the Big East and make it into the Big 12 while Louisville was left behind despite a strong and, in many ways, righteous attempt to grab that Big 12 spot for itself.

Certainly, they look upon this as a game where West Virginia can justify it landing that spot, while a Louisville victory would pierce the balloon that is the Big 12 itself.

That tabloid view, while appealing, is completely incorrect, as the coaches of the two teams assured during Monday’s Big East media call.

It began with one of the media types suggesting that the game would be far more interesting if it were to be played between the two administrations, for there has to be truly a lot of hostility built up between the two.

The media type wondered if Louisville coach Charlie Strong had sensed that hostility filtering into his locker room and inspiring his players.

Strong did not bite.

“No,” he said, “it doesn’t filter down. We have to play a football game here. It has nothing to do with the administration. I don’t even know if our players look at it.”

One has to suspect that is more wishful thinking than anything else from Strong, for surely players have a stake in where they play and are not much different from anyone else in wondering how they might do in the Big 12 or playing at Oklahoma.

But it surely is not a prime concern and players have a lot more to drive them than to be thinking, “We have to beat West Virginia because they got the bid to join the Big 12.” That is just not how any athlete thinks.

West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, of course, was asked a similar question by a media type who was hoping that maybe there is something more than just a football game on this side.

Like Strong, Holgorsen wasn’t biting.

“To me, regardless who you play, it’s all about routine and preparation,” he said. “They know what to expect. Our job as coaches is to keep them accountable on the field and off the field.”

In truth, what is at stake should be enough to keep both universes interested and involved.

Louisville comes into the game off two straight victories, the second of which was a rather convincing whipping of the same Syracuse team that stunned West Virginia just a week earlier, a signal to WVU not to take this game lightly.

As if they would, for this is Louisville and anyone who knows anything about the history of these teams knows that once upon a time they were the two teams at the top of the Big East, playing some classic football.

When the season started no one gave Louisville so much as a look, the Cardinals being run by a freshman quarterback and mostly being an unknown factor, but as the season has gone on they have grown in stature.

Much of it came after Cincinnati beat Louisville, moving Strong to hold individual meetings with his players in an effort to make sure they would react properly and move forward off the loss rather than backward.

They responded with the two straight victories.

“It’s a combination of things,” Strong explained. “It’s younger players growing up. We’re beginning to execute. I told the players in those meetings, ‘You tried it your way and it didn’t work. Now let’s try doing it our way.’”

That has worked.

“The players are developing trust in one another and some confidence,” Strong said.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.

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