The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 2, 2012

WVU ready to venture into the big-time

Texas atmosphere is among the best

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— They say everything is bigger in Texas. Longhorn football is no exception.

When No. 8 West Virginia (4-0) runs onto the FieldTurf surface of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, it will be greeted by more than 100,000 fans of the No. 11 Texas Longhorns (4-0) looking to make their visit to the Lonestar State miserable.

That’s more than 40,000 more than watched WVU defeat Baylor in the first Big 12 game for the Mountaineers and close to 5,000 more than the largest crowd to ever watch a WVU football game.

In 1991, the Mountaineers played in front of 96,445 fans at Penn State, but the majority of the players on this year’s team weren’t even born at that time.

Some of the current juniors and seniors played in front of 92,575 at LSU in 2010, but with so many young contributors on this year’s team, Saturday’s contest will be a completely new experience.

It’s not just the numbers that make a home game in Austin special. There’s Bevo, the school’s longhorn steer mascot, “The Eyes of Texas,” the school song, Hook ‘em Horns, the school’s hand signal, and Smokey the Cannon, fired in celebration of every score.

“Probably one of the best environments that exists in college football is in Austin, Texas,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has played against the Longhorns as an assistant at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. “I’ve been there five or six times and will be able to lay it out to (our players) a little bit.”

But Holgorsen doesn’t seem worried about how his team will respond.

“The one thing that’s so cool about being at West Virginia is that these kids don’t really care much about that,” he said. “They’ve played in BCS games, they’ve played, over the course of the last three or four years, at LSU and Auburn. They’ve been at some places and been in some big games. Our guys are excited about being a part of that.

“I can assure you they won’t be intimidated. But it will be a huge challenge.”

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Holgorsen especially isn’t worried about his quarterback, Geno Smith, who he said, “isn’t fazed by anything.”

Smith wasn’t intimidated at LSU, nearly leading the Mountaineers to victory, and he more than rose to the occasion in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, leading WVU to a 70-33 victory.

Smith, listed as the frontrunner on most Heisman Trophy lists, is having a record-setting season, but he’s still looking for more.

“He doesn’t take anything for granted,” said Holgorsen. “He’s harder on himself than anybody is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game or a practice. We give him an iPad, and after practice or after games he goes in and he studies it. He’s just a student of the game. He’d rather do that than a whole lot of other stuff. He’ll probably come in and give us a list of things wrong (against Baylor) before he watches the tape with us. That’s just the way it is.”

Even when there’s not an opponent, Smith is usually still watching tape.

“He came in this summer and got a bunch of NFL tape on his iPad,” the coach remembered. “Aaron Rodgers is a guy he’s studied. Tom Brady he studied. Drew Brees he studied. If we don’t have an opponent to look at, he’ll look at some NFL guys to see if he can pick some things up.”

But Holgorsen was quick to point out that Smith’s success is about much more than his own talent.

“There’s a lot of reasons why things are working the way they are,” he said. “In addition to those guys, the o-line is playing tremendous. Joey Madsen probably had his best game since he’s been here, and he’s going on being a four-year starter. (Jeff) Braun and (Josh) Jenkins are going to be four-year starters. We have some pretty good experience up front.

“We’re doing a good job on third downs,” Holgorsen continued. “We’re leading the country at over 60 percent on third-down efficiency — Texas is right behind us at 58 percent, by the way. I think the key to that is manageable third downs. We were a lot better on third downs (against Baylor) than we were (against Maryland), because (against the Terrapins), we got ourselves behind the chains a lot. Converting third-and-3 or third-and-4 is a whole heck of a lot easier than converting third-and-12.”

— E-mail: chuffman@