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Improvement, Mental Toughness Key

Halfway through the season, West Virginia ranks 91st in the country, averaging 24 points per game. Fixing that stat was one of the major focuses of the bye week, and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson feels good about what he’s seen so far in practice this week. That doesn’t mean he’s pleased, though.

Dawson says continuity and inexperience are big issues with the offense.

“We played good as an offense, but practice doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “We got to put it together on the field. They’re doing fine. We’re just trying to get better every day.”

One of the first steps to improving each day is fixing the issues with communication between the sideline and the quarterback, something Dawson says took a big step forward during the bye week.

“(It’s) doing better. We’ve done some things on our part to clear things up,” he said. “It’s gotten better, let’s put it that way. We switched some things up, which helped.”

Even with the best communication in the world, though, the issues surrounding continuity and experience will not suddenly disappear. Seven weeks into the season, Dawson hopes those problems are starting to resolve themselves.

“That’s probably been the biggest setback in our offense because everybody’s so new, and you’re not giving one guy 90-percent of the reps,” he said. “You’re switching in and out…. There hasn’t been a lot of gelling taking place. Hopefully we’ll start to see that.”

For Dawson, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this offense.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we know to do and what we know works,” he said. “We’ve shown signs – and maybe not definite signs through the course of games – but we know we’re capable. Our job as coaches is to stay positive. Stay positive, stay the course.”

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While much of the talk amongst players on Tuesday was how the bye week allowed them to heal from their injuries, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson saw an added benefit to the time away from the game.

“It was good for our kids mentally, more so than it was physically,” he said. “We were a little bit banged up. It’s been good for our guys to get their legs back underneath them, take a break and get ready for the next set of six games.”

That mental toll comes from playing their fourth undefeated team in a row, and fifth team this season that has been in the Top 25 at some point – all of which have been on national television.

“We started talking about that back in January with our players. It’s the Big12,” said Patterson. “That’s where the mental approach to this game comes. People forget that these games are now five hours long because they’re on TV. There’s a lot of mental stress that goes into each and every game. When it’s week after week after week, you got to be able to handle that. The mental part of it is just as taxing as the physical part of the Big 12.”

EerSports' Alissa Hudak contributed to this article.

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