Dana Holgorsen talked about West Virginia’s 11-month journey into the Big 12 with a word of warning, probably aimed more at his team than the assembled scribes and television media at his Tuesday press conference.
"The coaches know what they're doing," said Bruce. "And we should know how to play them."
The Mountaineers begin Big 12 play Saturday at Noon, hosting Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"From a coaches’ and players’ standpoint, we need to know our opponent," Holgorsen said. "We need to make it a regular week, we need to ignore a bunch of outside distractions and we need to get our kids ready to play Baylor.
Make no mistake, the players are well aware of the significance of the game, and to a man, those questioned Tuesday were excited about the first venture into this new era of Mountaineer football.
“I’m pretty excited heading into conference play,” receiver Stedman Bailey said. “Everybody has been waiting on this very moment. Baylor is our first Big 12 opponent, and we just have to take it week by week. We’re excited to play Baylor and kickoff the Big 12.”
“I can’t wait,” center Joe Madsen said. “It’s a new experience, new game, new people. I think we are going to go out there and play our best, and hopefully we have a good time and play our hearts out. It’s a special thing. I hope we bring this conference a lot of great things.”
Obviously, there is a difference between the Big 12 and the Big East. And there is a difference in recruiting the South, into Texas, as opposed to the Eastern Seaboard. Like the conference, the players are different.
“The skill is good,” said Holgorsen, who has a history coaching in Oklahoma and Texas. “Baylor has great skill. I have made reference to this from a recruiting standpoint - those guys have played football since they were in third grade. They are playing a lot of football when they are in junior high. When you get them, they are probably more game ready from a skill standpoint, not from a talent standpoint.”
That’s why the Big 12 has a reputation as a passing league, the amount of skill players who enter the conference.
And Baylor is a perfect example.
The Big 12 opener will not be a low-scoring affair.
Safety Darwin Cook sees that as an advantage to WVU.
“It’s a high advantage for us on defense,” Cook said. “Last week we played Maryland, and it was slow tempo which threw us off balance. We are used to an up-tempo offense and defense. We preach that every day in practice. I think we’ll be fine with it on Saturday."
There had been some talk about the Mountaineers’ defense doing more work against the first-team offense, but Holgorsen said it wouldn’t be any more than a typical game week.
“We always do two periods a day for speed of the game,” Holgorsen said. “If there is crossover, then we talk about that as a staff and we try to help each other out by not just running plays to run plays for speed of the game but to give them some looks that might be beneficial to them; we don’t want to waste time.
“We will not do more of it because, again, the offenses are different. There are similarities which we can get accomplished in two periods, but we have pretty good scout teams that can give them the correct looks as opposed to a manufactured look just for speed of the game.”
Baylor will spread the field and force the Mountaineer defense to cover the entire field.
"This is definitely going to be a first for us in seeing how much they spread out the whole field,” linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “They use the entire field to make us spread out and get us out of the box. That’s going to be a challenge with respecting the run and going out to cover their receivers. The coaches know what they’re doing, and we should know how to play them. A lot of our coaches have seen this conference before, and this team a lot, so that gives us a lot of confidence that they will have us prepared and ready for this week’s game.”