MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If there’s one thing that is universally understood about athletes, it is that they like routines. Whether it be for superstitious reasons, or just as a way to stay comfortable, when athletes and teams find a routine that works, they stick with it.
A trio of Thursday night battles will make getting into a normal routine a bit of a challenge for West Virginia (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) this year.
The Mountaineers are once again operating outside of the usual Sunday-Saturday work schedule this week in preparation for Thursday night’s showdown in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0 ACC).
“It’s one of those things, (the game is) on a short week, so everything is hurried,” head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “Probably for coaches, as much as anything, you’d like to get in a routine. You’re out of routine (this week).”
According to the head coach, West Virginia’s analysts got a jump start on Virginia Tech prep last week. The team, as a whole, took a quick look at the Hokies on Friday before taking on the Towson Tigers. The team got right back to work on Sunday, with a recovery session that followed the workout. The team practiced Monday and Tuesday, and will work out and recover again Wednesday morning before departing for Blacksburg.
Despite all the changes to the schedule, the head coach knows the Mountaineers aren’t the only team dealing with those changes.
“I don’t think it’s as much of a factor this week because they’re doing the same thing,” said Brown. “I think it’s pretty equal.”
Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley benefitted from getting many of his starters out of the game early against Towson, as did offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.
For Lesley, who is no stranger to preparing for a game on a short week or coaching mid-week games, preparation in those instances comes down to being efficient in the days leading up to kickoff.
“You just have to be smart with what you’re trying to do, and still at the same time, game plan what you need to with what you need to stop,” said Lesley. “You just have to be smart about it.”
Lesley added that an emphasis for defensive coaches during short weeks is figuring out the plays or schemes from the opposition that must be contained and stopped on game day.
“It’s figuring out in a short time frame what’s best for your kids,” said the defensive coordinator.
While coordinators and the head coach have less time to get their side of the ball, or the entire team, in a good place heading into a game on a short week, so too does the starting quarterback.
Harrell and JT Daniels spoke Monday about the freedom that Daniels has before the play. That comes from a heavy load of studying the opposing defense during the week. With two fewer days at his disposal to prepare for the Hokies, Daniels condenses his normal workflow to ensure that he is prepared.
“I just have to add two days together two times,” Daniels said.
The junior quarterback described his regular routine.
Sunday: Watch the opponent’s last three games against offenses similar to WVU’s. Pinpoint the opposition’s defensive identity and coverages. Identify tendencies in each position group.
Monday: Run downs — 1st & 10, 2nd & 6 or less. IDing the opposition’s most-used coverages, and how often they apply pressure to the QB.
Tuesday: Similar study, but for long-distance downs — 2nd & 7 or more.
Wednesday: Third down studies separated by down distance — medium, long, extra long.
Thursday: Attacking the red zone.
Friday: Repeat Sunday. Ensure he’s in a “good spot” heading into game day, while also checking his work from Sunday.
“So, I just got to combine Sunday (and) Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Daniels.
For Daniels and the Mountaineers, studying last year’s game tape of the VT-WVU clash in Morgantown won’t be much help, given the offseason coaching staff change in Blacksburg.
They do have three games worth of this year’s tape to work with.
Meanwhile, Daniels and the offense will look to continue operating at a level that has WVU among the best offenses in the country. Defensively Lesley will look to have his unit continue moving in the right direction, and quickly build off a solid showing at home in Week 3.
Kickoff between West Virginia and Virginia Tech is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET in Blacksburg. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.