For the last 18 years, there was a spot in the Light Blue Lot between Milan Puskar Stadium and Willowdale Road that was a big part of my WVU football game day experience.
Usually that spot was filled with grills, tents, coolers, beer, food and anything else synonymous with tailgating.
As I made the trek to the stadium Saturday morning prior to the Mountaineers’ season-opener against Eastern Kentucky, there were cars in that lot, but instead of it being the “Light Blue Lot,” it was Lot F2 for employees at Ruby Memorial Hospital.
No grills, tents, coolers, beer or food.
That spot serves as employees parking for 358 or 359 days a year, but for six or seven Saturdays in the fall, it was a place for friends, family — fans — to have a great time.
Instead, it seemed like a normal September Saturday in Morgantown, but while all was calm outside the stadium and in the stands, there was a football game played on Mountaineer Field. For months, most weren’t sure it would happen, and even now, many fan bases across college football are living that reality, but for 3 1/2 hours, things felt — at least a little bit — normal.
The brand new video board in the south end zone was lit up and ready to go, the new sound system played the typical sounds of game day.
And most important for the Mountaineers, they took care of business on the field.
In almost every facet many were worried about heading into the season, they performed well, albeit against an EKU squad that had been outscored 115-10 in the first two weeks (lost 59-0 to Marshall).
However, the running game was the biggest problem offensively last season by a long shot, and as head coach Neal Brown said, it was “putrid.” Against EKU, WVU finished with 329 yards on the ground, had three different running backs score touchdowns and dominated the line of scrimmage. Last season — total — the Mountaineers had seven rushing touchdowns. Already this year, they have five.
“Now, it’s just the start,” Brown said. “Just because we did it today doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we’ve arrived running the football. We still have to go to Stillwater and we have to do it. We’ve got to do it against Baylor, and we’ve got to do it against people that we are going to have to beat to be competitive in our league, but it was a start.”
The other big question was the back end of the defense, and while there were mental lapses and missed assignments, Brown was also happy with how the secondary performed.
Again, though, it needs to continue throughout Big 12 play.
“We had some miscommunication on a couple of those big plays,” Brown said. “We’ve got to do a better job communicating, but I thought overall, they did a nice job. They hit us on two big plays, so we were able to minimize the explosive plays, but I thought they did a nice job.
“We have a lot of youth back there and I thought we got better. We still have to make improvements … we haven’t arrived.”
Still, there was not much to be upset about for West Virginia’s performance Saturday. And even if there were, be it a player, coach or fan, we made it to the college football season.
Let’s enjoy while we have it.