MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The West Virginia University football team kicks off its season in less than two weeks and the Mountaineers are already trying to get game ready for Georgia Southern.
“This will be a quote on quote ‘mock game week’ for us,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We will have a good Tuesday practice today and another one tomorrow. We will travel on Friday.
“We will stay at the hotel. We will do exactly what we will be doing during game week on Friday and Saturday. We will come back here on Saturday and have a mock game. We will go through a lot of situations and then turn them loose until Sunday night.”
While some may be quick to write off Georgia Southern, the Eagles are a tough team and are capable of pulling off the upset.
In 2013, Georgia Southern shocked the Florida Gators in the swamp. Last season the Eagles lost two heart breakers to NC State (24-23) and Georgia Tech (42-38).
Georgia Southern won six I-AA national titles from 1985 to 2000. Then last season, the Eagles made their debut in the FBS, where they went 8-0 in the Sunbelt and only missed out on a bowl game because of NCAA transition-year rules.
“They have successfully made the transition from I-A, and won the conference their first year in the Sun Belt,” Holgorsen said. “That speaks volumes of Willie Fritz of how good of a coach he is and the tradition that Georgia Southern possesses. These guys have won a bunch. They have great tradition, and they understand how to win.
“My job is to get through to our players that they might not have the name recognition of Alabama, but within our coaching fraternity they have plenty of name recognition.”
The Eagles run a tricky triple option offense, which the Mountaineers are using the extra week to prepare for.
Georgia Southern led the country in 2014 with 381.1 rushing yards per game. The Eagles destroyed Georgia State 69-31 and ran for 613 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged 9.73 yard per carry.
Even playing without starting quarterback Kevin Ellison, the Eagles still possess a huge threat offensively.
Redshirt junior quarterback Favian Upshaw saw plenty of action last season. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound starter had a 70.4 percent (19-of-27) completion rate in 2014. He threw two touchdowns and one interception.
“There were plenty of games last year where they were on their second quarterback,” Holgorsen said. “The Upshaw kid came in with a lot of different situations last year. He’s going to be a year older, and he’s going to understand what to do. He’s going to run that offense just as good as last year, more than likely better than last year.”
Georgia Southern has plenty of other talented players, wide outs, running backs and offensive lineman included.
“If you look at their o-line, they are replacing a lot of guys, but they are replacing them with upperclassmen,” Holgorsen said. “That shows what kind of shape their program is in. When you lose a lot of starters up front, and you’re replacing them with juniors and seniors, that means they have a lot of players that understand what to do.
“Their running back (junior running back Matt Breida) is probably as good as anybody we will face all year. He has top-end speed and can get out in the open. People can’t catch him. That’s why they led the nation in rushing last year.”
Stopping the Eagles’ offense is not going to be an easy task for the Mountaineers.
“We can’t attack it,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “That’s the problem I have with it. When you do that you leave too many vertical run seams, and they can bust a big play on you. We have to be very patient. We can’t get bored with what we’re doing, and we have to play every snap very sound with what we’re doing.”
West Virginia’s secondary is use to attacking the ball and being aggressive on a daily basis and Georgia Southern’s offense will force the Mountaineers to slow down.
“I’m sure they’re going to try to use what we do best against us, with our speed and run counters,” Gibson said. “They will get us to flow one way, but go the other way. It’s assignment football. Every guy has an assignment, and they have to do it. You’re not going to make a lot of big plays against them.
“We aren’t anywhere close to being ready to play. These next two weeks will be crucial to make sure we are doing the right stuff and doing the right assignments.”
One thing that favors West Virginia is that they play the 3-3-5 defense, which is unique in its own. The Eagles will have to block the line and account for linebackers and safeties who are always lined up differently.
“They have their work cut out also,” defensive line coach Bruce Tall said. “It works both ways. I am sure they would rather see a four down or a three down. You know your 3-4 style defenses it works both ways.”
Sept. 5 should make for an interesting and fun game for the football fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.