Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Mountaineers focused on transition from tough opener to FCS opponent

MORGANTOWN — For the third season in a row, The West Virginia Mountaineers did not have an easy introduction to their football season.

WVU has started every season since 2021 with a road game against a Power Five opponent. It started with a game at Maryland in 2021, continued with last year’s Backyard Brawl at Pitt and, most recently, the Mountaineers opened 2023 last Saturday with a game against No. 7 Penn State inside Beaver Stadium. The Mountaineers lost all three contests.

“My issue with our schedule is not who we’re playing first,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “My issue with our schedule is we’ve opened up on the road three years in a row. That’s not smart scheduling.”

Immediately opening the season at a Power Five opponent, the Mountaineers returned home to play an FCS team in 2021 and will do so again this year when Duquesne comes to Morgantown on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN+).

While most teams play an easy game in their opener and ramp-up to tougher competition, WVU will be doing the opposite this week.

“I think there are pros and cons to both,” Brown said. “The thing that playing the FCS first helps you is you establish some momentum. That’s important. (This week) is about us making some positive momentum and getting better as we get into the meat of our schedule.”

While most teams like to open the season with a so-called tune-up game, some of WVU’s players said they preferred the week one challenge.

“I kind of liked opening it up against a big opponent,” receiver Devin Carter said. “You see where you’re at and it’s good competition so you get a good gauge on where you’re team is at.”

In his Mountaineer debut, Carter caught six passes for a team-high 90 yards against the Nittany Lions.

“It’s different, there are pros and cons to both,” tight end Kole Taylor added. “The pros to playing a non-Power Five team first is you kind of get to settle in, get warmed up and see what you need to do moving from week one to week two. But there are a lot of pros to playing big-time football in week one. You can go out and prove yourself.”

Another pro to scheduling an easy opener is starting the season with an all-but-guaranteed win. WVU, meanwhile, has started each of the last three seasons with a loss.

“We’re hungry to get a win,” Brown said. “We’re an 0-1 football team until we get a win and we need a win. We’ve got an important three-game homestretch that starts here with Duquesne on Saturday night.”

The team does not want to allow any sort of hangover from the loss to Penn State to affect preparation this week or the game on Saturday.

“The biggest thing is to understand that Penn State is over, we can’t get that back,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be on our record forever, but that’s not the team we’re playing this week. The biggest thing is looking forward, it’s a new opportunity this week.”

“It’s a test of will,” defensive lineman Mike Lockhart added. “I feel like a game like (Penn State) can determine your character. What happens after this game? Do you sink the ship or do you keep building and rise from it?

“It goes back to attention to details and technique. You can’t look past anybody because any given day a team like them could come in and upset us and then we fall into a slump.”

Duquesne opened its season with a 49-7 win over Division-II Edinboro and has played FBS games against Florida State, TCU, Hawaii and Ohio over the last two seasons.

“They’re not a bad team, so we can’t take them lightly. We’ve got to put our foot on the gas and just go,” Carter said. “We treat everything the same. That’s what you’ve got to do.”

WVU is 23-0 all-time against FCS competition. The closest the Mountaineers have come to being upset is a pair of seven-point wins, against James Madison in 2019 and William & Mary in 2013.

“This team is a good team and we can’t look past anyone that we play,” Taylor said. “They’re from an hour and a half away, they’re going to be playing in a big stadium with a lot of people and they’re going to be playing fiery. We’ve just got to be ready.”