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Tougher West Virginia seeks payback on ECU

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

West Virginia defensive linemen Scooter Berry and Chris Neild were watching "SportsCenter" in the locker room earlier this week when the show counted down the top 10 teams in college football.

Neild turned to Berry and said, "Hey, remember when we used to be in there?"

It's not hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the Mountaineers fell from that elite level. It happened in last year's second game, when they were blown out 24-3 at East Carolina. That started a two-game slide, and West Virginia has been out of the national picture ever since.

Of the team's four losses a year ago, three -- Colorado, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- were of the heartbreaking variety. The East Carolina game was 100-decibel wake-up call.

"I'm sure that 24-3 thrashing we took was an embarrassing loss and a hard lesson for young people to learn," head coach Bill Stewart said. "But it showed our football team that we have to do more than just throw on the old gold and blue."

It's not hyperbole to say that the Mountaineers have been thinking about that day in Greenville, N.C., for a full year. That defeat became Stewart's No. 1 example of why his team needed to get tougher and more physical, and that's something they worked on all during the preseason.

Now, with the Pirates coming to Morgantown on Saturday, the West Virginia players are ready to show that they're not the same as the ones who got beat up last year.

"It's something we've really been looking forward to," running back Noel Devine said. "We're excited about getting another chance to play them. It's like getting revenge."

"We have to be physical this season," quarterback Jarrett Brown said. "They out-toughed us last year."

East Carolina didn't have overwhelming offensive numbers in that game, but the Pirates converted key plays by running up the middle and forced two West Virginia fumbles. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney complete 22 of his 28 passes for 236 yards and a score.

"They ran a lot of powers and counters, and that's where they out-toughed us," Berry said. "If you watch it on film, that's where they really took it to us. We need to go out this weekend and not let that happen again."

The Mountaineers think they developed a harder edge after some grueling offseason work that included lots of hitting. But that didn't necessarily show up in the opener against Liberty, as the offense had trouble punching it in for touchdowns, settling for four field goals, and the defense gave up too many crossing routes in a surprisingly close 33-20 victory.

Then again, it was only opening week, and East Carolina struggled to put away Appalachian State in its debut.

West Virginia is entering its hardest stretch of the nonconference schedule, as this week will be followed by a game at Auburn and another payback opportunity at home against Colorado. It's clear, though, which team the Mountaineers really want to beat, and it's the one that first knocked them out of Top 10 status.

"I think we need this," Berry said. "We need to play tough teams early in the season. If we can go out and get a victory, it will be a big confidence boost, not only for our team but for Mountaineer Nation as well."