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Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Mountaineers try to stay focused on bowl

By Brian Bennett

These are strange times indeed at West Virginia, with Bill Stewart about to enter his one-year, lame-duck phase, several offensive assistants getting ready for their last game with the Mountaineers and an introductory news conference for Dana Holgorsen (at which Stewart will appear) taking place Wednesday.

All the while, the team needs to focus on Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl game against a tough opponent in NC State. There are more possible distractions then a fireworks explosion inside a candy factory. But the team is trying to close ranks and stay on task as much as possible.

"We talked about it a little bit," safety Robert Sands said. "Everybody understands it's a business and stuff like this is going to happen. We can't do anything about it. The only thing we can do is play football."

Stewart brushed off speculation that he will retire after the bowl game and tried to keep his Tuesday bowl news conference solely about the upcoming game. He'll talk Wednesday about his job and the Holgorsen hire, but he doesn't think that will become a sideshow.

"I’ve taken my marching orders, and we’re going to go finish this thing this year," he said. "Before we talk about 2011, I need to focus on 2010. How do we finish? That’s what I’ve asked the team. How will you be remembered? That’s the most important thing to this football team right now -- we want to finish."

West Virginia (9-3) still has a chance to accomplish one of its preseason goals: winning 10 games. To do so, the Mountaineers must find a way to stop NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, who accounts for more than 300 all-purpose yards per game. They'll also be without their best cornerback with Brandon Hogan sidelined with a knee injury. Wilson will be the top quarterback they have faced all year, and his mobility can cause the defense problems.

Sands compared Wilson to South Florida's B.J. Daniels, who struggled against West Virginia this year but led the Bulls to victory last year in Tampa.

"We had a pretty good game plan for [Daniels] this year, and I think we'll have a good game plan this time," he said. "Both are tremendous athletes. He's constantly putting up good numbers, so you have to respect that. At the same time, we've got a group of guys over here that are ready to put some pressure on him."

When Wilson is on, the Wolfpack can put up a lot of points. But West Virginia's offense played its best down the stretch, and Noel Devine should be healthier after three weeks' rest.

"I think we were kind of hitting our stride late," quarterback Geno Smith said. "Yeah, it came late but we've been through a lot this season."

The Mountaineers are still going through a lot. But they're doing their best to not let it affect this game.

"There are no awkward feelings out here," Smith said. "It's still the same as it was about three weeks ago. We're out at practice getting after each other."