Morgantown, WV lies a little over 180 miles from my parent’s front door in Loudoun County, VA, nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills where horses and cattle might well outnumber people.
As the crow flies, Morgantown is not all that far a drive. My dad and I routinely make the journey in under three hours, always arriving in time for a beer at Mario’s before heading down to tailgate in Brown lot with our regular game day crew. And while the point-to-point distance is not considerable, the social dynamics in either place are night and day.
The DC metro area (or DMV or NCR if you’re into that kinda thing) is a prolific melting pot. It has an amazing food scene (Shake Shack >>> Five Guys. Don’t @ me). It’s also a college hotbed. Maryland, Marymount, Catholic, American U, Georgetown, the list goes on and on. Of course, you can’t reference the region without acknowledging the pervasive glare of maroon and orange year round. Yes, I’m talking about Virginia Tech. I’m talking about Hokie country, which I live right in the middle of.
It’s also a fantastic thing to soak up as we enter the home stretch before West Virginia and Virginia Tech kick off the season on Sunday, September 3rd at FedEx field. To say that I’m looking forward to this game would be a massive discredit to the level of excitement that I’m experiencing. It would also be a massive understatement to say that I am not, in any way, a Virginia Tech fan.
For me, a proud native Virginian, the rivalry between the ‘Eers and the Hokie birds is a lifetime of (un)friendly wagers, blunt objects thrown at television screens and just forming general aversions to anything associated with “Beamer ball”. Of all the rivalries that have been relegated to the shelf since West Virginia jumped to the Big 12, the series with VPI is the one that I miss the most. (Sorry, Pitt).
So, to have them back on the schedule, especially at a time when both programs are coming off of 10 win seasons and enter the season ranked, is a godsend. The timing for these two fan bases to once again come together could not be more perfect. Here are some key-critical things to look forward to:
Jake Spavital vs. Bud Foster: THE SHOWDOWN
Cue the wild west music. The thousand yard stares these two will be sharing from across the field will be Iliad-type levels of epic. Daenarys and her three dragons could only dream of generating the type of hot, hot fire that the squaring off between Foster’s defense and Spav’s offense will produce.
Bud Foster has been doing this for a long time, and is as distinguished a college coach as they come. As a veteran defensive coordinator now entering his 30th season in Blacksburg, it was a touch surprising when Justin Fuente took over running the show at Tech over Foster, who had more than earned the head coach mantle. Spavital, on the other hand, is just now coming into his own after several years cutting his teeth as offensive coordinator and quarterback whisperer at Texas A&M and Cal.
Spavital’s M.O. is a red bull-injected spread attack that favors the pass and multiple receiver sets, being lead by wunderkind and gloriously-maned quarterback Will Grier. The Mountaineers also boast a hydra of a running back corps, lead by the Big XII’s returning leader in rushing Justin Crawford. The Tech secondary will also have to contend with Jovon Durante, who is a blur, and Ka’Raun White, member of the world’s most successful genetic experiment, err, family, the Whites.
Foster will look to stymie West Virginia’s air raid attack with a talent-laden defense featuring pre-season All ACC linebacker Tremaine Edmunds that likes to disguise coverages and blitz hard across the front. Spavital is a visor guy, whereas Foster likes the classic ball cap. Spavital is team Red Bull whereas Foster seems more like a coffee guy. Advantage: Spavital.
‘Enter Sandman’ vs. ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’
I have dozens and dozens of friends and acquaintances who follow the Hokies. The collective VPI psyche is a curious thing. For instance, any one of them will tell you that not only is their stadium intro better than yours, but also that Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ is the greatest thing in the history of ever. I’ve seen it in person and I can tell you that it’s kind of cool. I can also tell you that Metallica was formed in Los Angeles in 1981 and that the song in question, at no point, references Southwest Virginia or any of the universities that reside there.
‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, on the other hand, is very much intrinsically tied to West Virginia. From the marching bands pre-game rendition to the post-game victory sing-along, John Denver’s anthem is beloved across every inch of the mountain state. It’s a veritable love letter to WV, and is essentially John Denver’s opus. Not to mention John Denver (who was a football guy) was a Texas Tech grad so the tie-in to Big XII football is more than apparent.
While I can rock out to ‘Enter Sandman’ as well as the next guy, I’m planning on West Virginia locking up a big ol’ W. Cue Country Roads, send us home happy. Rinse/repeat.
Will Grier vs. The Virginia Tech Defense
This is what the folks have been waiting to see.
There hasn’t been a quarterback prospect, possibly ever, to arrive at West Virginia with this amount of hype. Virginia Tech has been historically stingy on defense and refers to itself as “DB U”. Will Grier is a former national high school player of the year. Virginia Tech is all about lunch pails whereas Will Grier conditions his hair AT LEAST four times a day.
What this comes down to is scheme. Jake Spavital is a mad scientist posing as an offensive coordinator. If even two receivers can manufacture a break out year (Jovon Durante, please stand up) the Tech defense will find themselves in a track meet of interstellar proportions. Can Tech’s defense minimize space in the open field? Can their defensive front (almost all of which are coming off of shoulder injuries of some kind) get pressure on Will Grier? Is Tech’s maroon more purplish red or reddish purple?
One thing is for certain: West Virginia will attempt at least 50,000 passes at FedEx field. Ok, maybe 48,000. I’m rounding up. Numbers suck, I digress. If Grier’s six games at Florida two seasons ago are any indication as to what the redshirt Junior can produce on the field, then the Hokies better load up on slices and double knot their shoe laces. Will Grier is a former blue-chipper who, in the mold of former Mountaineer signal-caller Clint Trickett, can sling the rock and maintain an exquisite flow under his helmet. That’s not something that you can just teach. That’s god-given.
Mascots: Who Ya Got?
Turkey is delicious. Especially deep fried turkey. Ugh, it’s the best. Gravy on everything. On Thanksgiving we spend all day outside around the deep-fryer, beers in hand, the heady aroma of a brined bird sizzling away in a vat of cajun spices. It’s intoxicating, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s going to taste even better on September 3rd when I get my mitts on a turkey leg. I’ll make sure all my Virginia Tech friends know how good it tastes, too. Even Adam Sandler agrees! YAY!!
It’s unfortunate to have a mascot whose most defining characteristic is that it acts as a centerpiece for holiday feasts across the country. It’s also unfortunate that West Virginia’s mascot is a rugged survivalist with a functioning black powder musket. I’ve seen it up close and that sucker is L-O-U-D.
I’ve seen many a wild turkey in Virginia. They are impressive creatures, especially when they jump out of the brush and nearly fly through your windshield. I suppose that’s karmic debt, seeing as I imbibe on Turkey-related dishes on a regular basis. Nature has no mercy, but neither does a hungry Mountaineer who’s hunting for dinner.
While I can respect a turkey’s ability to survive and maintain a constant sense of situational awareness (try hunting them, it’s not easy), I have to maintain that a Mountaineer is the epitome of a man in his rawest, primal form. A true American, if you will. My prediction for this game can be best summed up in one enduring image: a cloud of feathers and the smell of black powder. Game: mountain blouses.
The Commonwealth of Virgina, the state of West Virginia: A Family Torn Apart
This is where it gets dicey.
Virginia is a fine place. It’s got scenery, it’s got beaches, it’s got live music. George Washington, important American and likely football guy, hailed from the commonwealth.
But I love no other sports team on the face of the earth like the Mountaineers. So I say, with a heavy heart, that on Sunday, September 3rd, under the lights at Dan Snyder’s house, I’ll become an honorary West Virginian. It must be done. Hell hath no fury like a team that gets no media representation in a tv market that sits just three hours from its city limits. DC TV and radio would have you believe that Blacksburg sits just off the beltway between Silver Spring and Potomac. Imagine my surprise when, upon review of a 2017 map of the east coast, I found out that a) There were no geological aberrations or drastic changes to the landscape in either Virginia or West Virginia in recent years and b) Morgantown is a full hour closer to FedEx field than the “local” Virginia Tech Hokies. It’s absolutely mind-blowing! Banana land, I tell you.
Never mind that the Vegas oddsmakers have WVU pegged as a three point underdog to a Hokies team that is unsure of who their starting quarterback will be entering the season. This is the same team that did this the season before last. #NEVERFORGET!!!
Come Monday morning, September 4th, I’ll wake up in my bed in Fairfax county and proceed to make lunch plans at the Vienna Inn, local landmark, and enjoy a beverage from Star Hill, a Virginia brewery. But you can be dead sure that I’ll be celebrating with all the football people from West Virginia.