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West Virginia vs. Pitt - A sizzling Backyard Brawl

November 24, 2005|By ERIK SCHELZIG

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez wants to keep it simple: Concentrate on winning and landing a BCS berth.

All the other background noise surrounding tonight's game against Pittsburgh - the rivalry between neighbors and the hoopla in this Backyard Brawl - only gets in the way.

"The last thing you want to do is have them go out there pressing and trying to do too much at one time, rather than going out and playing," Rodriguez said.

With a win, No. 12 West Virginia can clinch at least a tie for the Big East Conference title. The Thanksgiving night game will be the 98th meeting between West Virginia (8-1, 5-0) and Pitt (5-5, 4-2) in a series dating to 1895.

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"It's a rivalry game, and all rivalry games are going to be extremely intense, very physical and with a lot of emotion," said Rodriguez, a Mountaineer defensive back from 1982-84. "And our guys know that."

The Mountaineers want to avoid a repeat of last year's performance: A 16-13 loss to Pitt that shattered the Mountaineers' BCS bowl aspirations.

"Our players are going to know about Pitt, and hear about Pitt 365 days a year, so they've handled it pretty well," Rodriguez said. "I just want to go out and play well because I know it's going to be a tough game."

The coach has been trying to keep his players from "over-hyping or getting caught up too much in extracurricular things." West Virginia offensive lineman Garin Justice is a senior and understands the demands of this game.

"You try not to let emotion creep in, but it's something that's there," Justice said. "You have to treat it like any game, but it's tough."

Rodriguez and first-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt have played in Backyard Brawls for the teams they now coach.

"This is kind of unique because I've actually played in the games, played down (in Morgantown) and been part of some of the great stories that the fans and ex-players talk about," said Wannstedt, a Pitt offensive tackle from 1970-73.

"You can stand up there and talk to the team and you're not telling them something you've read in a book," he said. "You've actually been there and done it."

It will be the first time the two teams are coached by their respective alumni since 1965, when John Michelosen coached Pitt and Gene Corum coached West Virginia.

Eleven visiting teams have won the last 18 Backyard Brawls. But Wannstedt knows it will be a major challenge to silence a raucous West Virginia crowd.

"Any time you go on the road and play against a wild crowd, an enthusiastic crowd - which we're going to have - you have to make sure you do whatever you can to take them out of the game," he said.

Rodriguez plans to play both Pat White and Adam Bednarik at quarterback.

"If you're good enough to win with, and you're prepared, we'll get you into the game," he said.

Even if the Mountaineers win, surging South Florida (6-3, 4-1) could still force a conference tie by beating Connecticut on Saturday and West Virginia on Dec. 2.

Pitt, which leads the series 59-35-3, is trying to avoid its first losing season since 1999. The Panthers have won three of the last five meetings, but lost 52-31 in their last visit to Morgantown.

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