Camping World Bowl Important On Multiple Fronts For WVU
The past cannot be changed, and so Dana Holgorsen buries it behind him as he launches head first into another bowl adventure, this one by necessity being more important for the future than the present.
The opponent in today’s 5:15 p.m. Camping World Bowl in Orlando that will be shown on ESPN is a familiar one, long-time rival Syracuse which was last seen by WVU in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, one of the four losses in six bowl appearances for Holgorsen.
That was a one-sided mismatch with WVU on the short end of a 38-14 score to close out a disappointing 7-6 season that came on the heels of Holgorsen’s 10-3 debut year that was capped with not one of his but WVU’s bowl highlights, a 70-33 demolition of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
This game has none of the glamour or glitter that the first game had, and that is something of a shame or WVU roared into late November flying high with visions of a Big 12 championship firmly planted in their minds.
They had pulled off a miracle of 42-41 victory over Texas and routed TCU, 47-10, as they faced games against Oklahoma State and powerful Oklahoma.
They won neither, gave up 104 points in the process and wound up playing in the shadow of the big boys, a game not big enough to cause their best players to risk injury to play in as seniors quarterback Will Grier, wide receiver Gary Jennings and tackle Yodny Cajuste opted out.
Of course, Syracuse, which has one of the nation’s most aggressive defenses that is among the national leaders in sacks and turnover margin, is without two key defensive linemen, too.
Holgorsen says that’s sort of a standoff.
“It looks to me it’s an evenly matched game,” Holgorsen said in Thursday morning’s pregame press conference. “We both have pretty much the same record. We got a couple offensive guys out. He’s got a couple of defensive guys out. So we’ll line up and see what happens.”
“I do think it’s a good match if we can play,” added Syracuse’s Dino Babers. “If we can come and play and be locked in mentally, I think it’s a good match and I think it should be exciting, but I’m not sure it’s going to be the game that everybody thinks it’s going to be. It could be one of those 10-7 overtime games like we saw last night and that still would be exciting, especially if we came out on top.”
One thing you’d better believe is the team West Virginia is playing is a legitimate opponent. Syracuse is ranked No. 17 to WVU’s No. 15/16, owns a 9-3 record with two of those losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, both having qualified for the College Football Playoff, and the other to Pitt, a team that played in the ACC Championship game.
Considering the situation, that certainly gives Syracuse a perceived emotional edge over WVU as it scratches to return to national prominence, although that may be blunted by the incentive given to WVU’s younger players who will have a chance to establish their credentials for next season.
This is a big game in the development of both WVU’s remaining quarterbacks, Miami transfer Jack Allison and freshman Trey Lowe III. Lowe wouldn’t be getting this chance if it weren’t for the new redshirt rule that now allows you to play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
Other Mountaineers also benefit from this.
“If it wasn’t for the redshirt rule, I’d be lining up with the walk-on quarterback here (instead of Lowe). So Trey Lowe is going to play. We have been saving him,” Holgorsen said.
“It’s an opportunity to be able to line these inexperienced guys up and see what they can do. I’m excited about what both of them (Lowe and Allison) are going to do. But with that said, we’ve strategically held off on playing some of our guys and I think I got five guys that have played in three games, so there’s five that are going to play and be able to save their year and then I’ve probably got five more that have been getting better throughout the course of the year and we’ll be able to play those guys as well.”
So you have a dual approach. You want to win, to end a two-game bowl losing streak and turn around a run of four bowl losses in the last five tries, but you find it more important to use it as a foundation for next season.
Normally, you would care greatly about winning any bowl game as a going away present and memory for the seniors but with the culture changing and three of your top seniors not present, that incentive is diminished.
Still, it is a goodbye game for the likes of Dravon Askew-Henry, Toyous Avery and two-time All-American receiver David Sills V, who has completely won over Holgorsen and his teammates with his dedication.
“He’s really a team player,” Holgorsen said. “He’s going to have a bright future in the NFL. Who knows where guys get picked. I can’t figure that thing out. But he’s going to play for a while.
“He’s a great football player. He’s a great team guy. He’s excited about being here. He’s leading our team — you know, two time All American. So hopefully he can catch a few touchdowns passes.”
If he does that, Holgorsen figures WVU will win.
“You’ve got to score to win. I ain’t buying this 10-7 stuff. We’re having to have to move the ball. I do think that both defenses will be ready to play and be excited about it, but we’re going to have to move the ball and David’s going to have to finish a few drives for us to win,” he said.