MORGANTOWN — It can be difficult to get excited for a bowl trip when you’re flying into the same airport you’ve already been to twice during the regular season.
That’s the challenge WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen has when trying to motivate his team for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, against Utah.
The Mountaineers will play in the heart of Big 12 territory in northeast Texas, flying into Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport for the third time in three months — before facing TCU, on Oct. 8, and Baylor, on Oct. 21.
And while WVU is playing inside the Cotton Bowl, it’s not the Cotton Bowl, which is now played in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium and is a New Year’s 6 bowl. Other programs are taking trips to the Bahamas, Southern California and Florida, and WVU is going somewhere it has been to a dozen times over the last six seasons.
What Holgorsen is hoping is that an extended stay in Dallas, rather than a two-day business trip during the regular season, will be a treat for his players.
“We tried to pull together our guys to see who has been in Texas for an extended period of time, and there are not a whole bunch of them,” he said.
“There are probably only one or two of these guys that have spent an extended period of time in Texas other than flying to Fort Worth, Austin or Lubbock to spend the night and play one game.”
Spending time in Dallas could be beneficial to his team, Holgorsen said, because it’s where the Big 12 championship game is held, and it could give it a taste of what it would be like to play there, citing next season as a possibility.
The Mountaineers left Dec. 21 and will spend four full days in Dallas before the game, on Dec. 26. Leading up to the trip, the coaching staff went through a week of bowl prep and will go through another four days of new bowl prep in Dallas for the Utes.
With the game being the day after Christmas, there was no time to send players home for the holidays because of finals and practice.
The team hasn’t had any time off since a 59-31 loss to Oklahoma. With nearly four weeks of practice since, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is looking forward to getting the sour taste out of his mouth from one of the worst performances his unit has had.
“Well, hopefully they were embarrassed after that regular-season finale, and they can go out and redeem themselves a little bit. I told them how I felt about it, I don’t know if they felt sorry for themselves or if they got motivated by it. It wasn’t good. I thought we’ve had a few good days here. I think our kids are into it, and that’s very important going into a bowl game.
“Everybody always says, ‘What makes them go in a bowl?’ and I think the team that usually wins those bowl games is the team that is most excited to play and best prepared. I think our guys have done a good job with that. I think they’re excited to go play a good opponent, so we’ll see what happens.”
As for what the offense has done during the extra practices, coordinator Jake Spavital is working with quarterback Chris Chugunov.
Chugunov “is a very smart kid,” Spavital said. “He already knows how to run the majority of our offense, because he’s been here for three years. He’s been sitting in on those meetings for a long time. It’s been good on the terms of communicating with him and on what he’s comfortable with even more. With the short turnaround at Oklahoma, it was kind of you go with this play or you go with that, then move on. Now, we actually sit down, dissect it and figure out what he’s good at and what he’s comfortable with.”