The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 23, 2013

Mountaineers look to find key to road success

At times this season, the West Virginia University football team has looked like a squad a long way from being competitive. In the 37-0 shutout against Maryland and the record-setting 73-42 thrashing against Baylor, the Mountaineers seemed light years behind their opponent in every phase of the game.

In other games — like the 30-21 upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State, and even last Saturday’s narrow loss to No. 16 Texas Tech — WVU looked like a squad that was on par with some of the best teams in the country.

The difference?

There were several, but perhaps none was any bigger than the location of the games.

At home at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium this season, WVU is 3-1, including the upset of the Cowboys. The only loss was last Saturday in a game that the Mountaineers led by 11 points in the third quarter and the coaches still believe they should have won.

On the road, the story has been different.

WVU has yet to win a game away from Morgantown this season, coming up empty in three tries. The Mountaineers have been outscored 126-49 in those three games, the closest being a 16-7 loss at No. 16 Oklahoma.

The trend actually goes back a little further than that. Including the New Era Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse to end the 2012 season, WVU lost three of its last four away from Mountaineer Field last year. That’s six of the last seven road trips over the last two seasons that have ended in defeat — the only win a 31-24 victory at Iowa State last November that clinched WVU’s bowl eligibility.

“The 12th man gets into it,” said sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce, pointing out that WVU is not the only Big 12 team that has had some problems away from home. “Teams play better with their crowds behind them. Different weather situations (occur), and everyone plays better when the conference games come around.”

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One Mountaineer who’s excited about going on the road to Manhattan, Kan., is junior quarterback Clint Trickett. Growing up in a football family — his father, Rick, is the offensive line coach at Florida State and served in the same role at WVU under Rich Rodriguez — Trickett, who will start for WVU on Saturday, has always been a fan of Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder.

The 74-year-old coach is in his second stint with the Wildcats and coaches in a stadium named in his honor.

During his first tenure with the Wildcats from 1989 through 2005, Snyder turned a program that had won fewer than 300 games in 93 years of football — at the time the 510 program losses were the most by any school in Division I-A — into a winner. He had a winning season in his third year and had the Wildcats in a bowl game by year No. 5.

KSU played in 11 straight bowl games beginning with that 1993 Copper Bowl and won four  Big 12 North division titles and one conference title during that stretch. He was the Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1993 and the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2002.

Snyder retired after back-to-back losing seasons in 2004 and 2005, but after three unsuccessful seasons without him, the school hired him again on Nov. 24, 2008.

He went 6-6 in his first season back, and by year No. 3 the Wildcats were 10-3 and in the mix for a conference championship. Last year, Snyder led KSU to an 11-2 finish, a tie with Oklahoma for the top spot in the Big 12 and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

He’s now 172-88-1 overall at Kansas State, the only program he’s ever led.

“I’ve always looked up to Coach Snyder, because he doesn’t have the best situation at Kansas State, in regards to recruiting, but he continues to win,” said Trickett. “As a coach’s kid, I have had so much respect for him. I have throughout my life.

“I was actually a fan of Kansas State when I was younger. I am excited to play against a legend in Coach Snyder. He really is. The stadium is already named after him, and he is still there. So he is everything to that school.”

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WVU released a statement Wednesday effectively clearing special teams coordinator Joe DeForest of any wrongdoing while at WVU, after a Sports Illustrated story released last month implicated the former Oklahoma State assistant for paying players while with the Cowboys.

WVU released a statement at that time stating that it was launching an internal investigation into DeForest’s actions since arriving at WVU in 2012. It followed that up with its Wednesday with another statement.

“West Virginia University has conducted an internal review as the result of the recent articles from a national media outlet, which includes allegations against one of our current assistant football coaches surrounding his time of employment at a previous institution,” the statement read. “WVU has not found any infractions of NCAA rules or other misconduct at our institution. WVU is unable to comment on the veracity of the media allegations levied against the assistant coach while employed at another institution, and defers to that institution, as well as appropriate NCAA infractions personnel, to complete a review and assessment of those allegations.”

DeForest has come under fire not just for the allegations, but also for his performance at WVU. He was hired as the defensive coordinator prior to the 2012 season, and in his only year in that role he produced what was statistically the worst defense in WVU history.

This season, he was moved to special teams coordinator after Keith Patterson was handed the keys to the defense. The Mountaineers currently rank last in the Big 12 in kick return average (19.1) and punt return average (4.5).

DeForest is WVU’s highest-paid assistant coach, making $500,000 per year.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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