By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The trap has been set, and it has been set by one of the best big-game hunters in college football.
We’re not talking about safaris now, although a trip into the wilds of the Washington, D.C., area in this case will be as dangerous for West Virginia’s eighth-ranked football team as any journey Dr. Livingstone ever took, I presume.
The presumption comes from the mouth of the words uttered not by H.M. Stanley but by one Mickey Matthews, head football coach at this week’s WVU opponent, James Madison, the No. 5 ranked FCS school in the nation.
Matthews, as previously stated, is one of the sport’s great big-game hunters ... big game being used in the athletic sense here. He has coached in quite a few of them despite a long career at the lower level, winning the Division 1-AA national title in 2004, upsetting No. 3 Virginia Tech, 21-16, on Sept. 22, 2010, on the Hokies’ home field, and narrowly dropping a three-point decision at Maryland in 2008.
And how does Matthews get away with such shenanigans?
Well, first he puts together a talented group of football players and coaches them well, and then he reaches far back in time to when underdog football coaches were smooth-talking characters who would have you believe they were afraid to show up for the game, let alone had any thoughts of winning it.
They would lull the opponent into a state of such confidence that it ran out on the field filled with sympathy for the opponent, right up until Appalachian State dropped Michigan or the equivalent thereof.
Just how did Matthews do this today on his media conference call?
“I didn’t know it was going to be on TV,” he said when someone mentioned the 4:30 p.m. game would be carried on a series of stations. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s news.”
He said it like someone was saying they don’t know if televising an execution is a good thing.
If you listen to Matthews, WVU isn’t worried at all about his little ol’ team from down in the Virginia boondocks.
“The true statement is they haven’t even watched our film. I’d be surprised if they’re worried about anything we do. They could have scored 100 against Marshall if they wanted to,” he said.
Matthews even noted that now there is a running game to contend with, although he still thinks it’s an afterthought.
‘I think when (Coach Dana Holgorsen) gets bored making yards passing he runs it so the running backs won’t quit,” he said.
Holgorsen swears he’s not falling for this sales pitch.
“We anticipate this being a bigger challenge than what we faced a week ago,” he said.
A week ago, you may recall, was a team called Marshall, who won’t really take too kindly to that.
If they are a challenge to WVU, then what kind of challenge does WVU present to Matthews’ team? By the time he gets through listing them you are kind of wondering if they really will show up.
“I don’t know if you can get ready,” he said. “You are competing against a guy who is probably going to win the Heisman (quarterback Geno Smith). I don’t know if he’ll win it but he’ll be invited to New York and he has two guys who will be carrying suitcases for him catching passes.”
That, of course, would be receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
So how do you approach it?
“First thing, you want to make them punt. They don’t like to punt,” he said. “You have to limit the yards after the catch. They throw a lot of short stuff. They are fast and very athletic. They will take it to the house.”
And, just to add to Matthews’ problems, he says he doesn’t expect his best player to play.
That would be tailback Dae’Quan Scott, whom he says sprained an ankle while scoring a touchdown just before the half of the 42-3 victory over Alcorn State last week. He did not play the rest of the game, sitting on 107 halftime rushing yards and two touchdowns — on eight carries — to say nothing of 39 receiving yards and another touchdown on five receptions.
“Dae’Quan is very questionable,” Matthews said. “I don’t think he’ll play if I had to guess now.”
Anyone want to bet that he won’t be playing on that stage this weekend?
“He was swollen pretty good last night,” Matthews went on, but then gave a bit of a clue as to the reality of the situation. “If you know Dae’Quan, he’ll go get a new ankle somewhere because he loves to play so much.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.