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November 2, 2011

Distractions limited

WVU beat cold, snow and conference change in Rutgers win

MORGANTOWN — The miracle of last Saturday’s second-half comeback by West Virginia was not really the comeback they launched against Rutgers at all.

True, in college football, coming back from 10 down at the half isn’t easy, especially when your defense has been shredded for 31 points in the first half, for there was no reason to believe they were going to come out of the bullpen in the second half and pitch a shutout.

Yet that is what happened, just as Geno Smith found his home run swing and tossed two touchdowns and ran for another, sending them into this Saturday’s noon home game against Louisville riding high.

What they really did, though, was ignore swirling whirlwinds around them ... the cold, the wet, the snow, the uncertainty of conference affiliation.

Everything was begging them to quit, to fold it up, but they rose above that.

“We had a chance to quit and we didn’t,” Coach Dana Holgorsen said at his Tuesday press conference. “We didn’t talk about the weather, didn’t use it as an excuse. We overcame a lot of things and that says a lot about the character of this football team.”

Part of the reason they were able to do this was because the team was shielded from the distractions the conference move could have made. You know, there are Florida players on the Mountaineers playing key roles and right now they travel to Florida to play once, sometimes twice a year.

Those players’ families and friends can see those games, but if they go to the Big 12 it will be different and that could be a bother, a distraction, just as the thought of longer travel to strange places.

But it didn’t bother them last week and now it’s there again, the move no longer a rumor but now official.

Holgorsen explained the approach. They are not making a big deal of it with the players.

“Last week when it became official, on Friday we brought the guys together for about 30 seconds and told them it was official, but then we told them it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything with this week and it doesn’t mean anything next week,” Holgorsen said.

“I’d be naïve to not talk about it with our players, with our coaches, within the task at hand. Our task at hand is the same as what it was in August, which is to win the Big East. That’s what our challenge is. That’s what our goal is. That’s what all our focus, effort and energy is on.”

That does not mean Holgorsen hasn’t given it some thought.

“With that said, as a program, I’m excited, I can assure you that. I understand the Big 12 and what they’re about from a national perspective, from a facilities perspective and academic perspective. The amount of changes and challenges that are going to take place here at West Virginia is something that will take a long time to get done.

“It’s a huge task, not an overnight fix. It’s great to be able to solidify our future and what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful.”

But to worry about that at the moment is to put the Sooner Schooner before the horse, so to speak.

Louisville and that goal of winning a Big East title comes first and that figures to be tougher than people think, the Cardinals having won their last two games. Holgorsen understands that, but he doesn’t necessarily buy the idea that gives them all the momentum coming into this game.

“To be honest, I think every week is independent. If anyone should have some momentum right now, we should,” Holgorsen said. “Based on coming back home, based on overcoming the adversity that we overcame last week, we have everything out there in front of us.

“We’re 6-2 and have a chance to finish strong. Does that give us an advantage? I doubt it. You have to line up and play every week.

“A few of the things that we’ve learned over the last two weeks was that you’d better play with effort all four quarters. Regardless of what the score is, you better be playing for four quarters. That can’t ever change, especially when there’s as much parity as there is. In this league, it doesn’t matter who it is — they can get you.”

Syracuse did get West Virginia. Rutgers almost did.

And if the Mountaineers aren’t at their best for Louisville, the Cardinals may be able to get them, too.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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