Dana Holgorsen calls out WVU fan attendance

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At just about 11 pm for the past few nights, my Twitter feed has blown up with the same set of rumors.

“Source tells me Mike Slive is in Morgantown. WVU to SEC is a done deal.”

“Been told to expect an announcement about SEC membership tomorrow.”

And on and on it goes. As the great West Virginia sideline reporter Jed Drenning relayed, “Some moments are truly special. I’ll never forget where I was all 17 times West Virginia was officially-unofficially invited to the SEC.”

Indeed, the Mountaineer faithful have opined over the last several weeks that West Virginia would be a solid addition to the SEC as the league’s 14th member to the point of some truly believing everything they read. After all, did you not see College GameDay live from Morgantown? Did you not witness the 13,000 fans packing the Mountainlair plaza and the over 60,000 who crammed into Mountaineer Field sporting gold?

It was a big-time atmosphere. A cultural ying to the SEC’s yang. How could they say no?

But then, this past weekend, West Virginia laid an egg. A crowd of roughly 46,000 — 14,000 less than capacity — showed up to a cold, rainy and overall dreary afternoon to watch the Mountaineers lay 55 points on Bowling Green. Speaking with the media on Tuesday, coach Dana Holgorsen said that’s not acceptable.

“Whatever our expectations are with our players as far as preparing every week and going to the games and playing our best – I highly encourage our students and support to take the same approach. You only have seven opportunities a year.   What’s so hard about it? Was it too cold?  It wasn’t too cold for our players.  Wasn’t too cold for our coaches, managers or trainers.  They were out there.  So, why did we have 20,000 less people out there this week than last week?

“We’re all talking two weeks ago about how much difference the fans and crowds going to make to the LSU people. Well, LSU played well in front of 62,000 of our people and then turned around and went home and played a 1-4 Kentucky team at noon with 95,000 people there. You want to talk about an elite program?  That’s one.  I don’t know about this place.

“All I heard about was about how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia and this was the NFL team here in town and we’re going to be there to support you. Having 40,000 people at a game isn’t doing that.  The only thing we can do about it is fix it.”

To be fair, it’s hard to get excited about playing Bowling Green and Norfolk State, the two home games that hosted crowds of 51,000 or less. It’s almost equally difficult to get amped for Big East conference play. There just aren’t any great teams or marquee games.

Asking people to come out in force for Cincinnati or UConn? Even AD Oliver Luck, a smart businessman, has to know that’s a stretch.

But Holgorsen was brought in for a reason: to re-energize Mountaineer Field after it was lulled to sleep over the past three years under Bill Stewart. So far, WVU’s offense has responded accordingly. Geno Smith is a top-five passer in college football and points are bountiful.

The WVU Mantrip, a new pre-game festivity created by Holgorsen, is an exciting way for fans to interact with their team before the game.

If West Virginia’s fans are as passionate and loyal as they claim to be, and if the quality of the product has been raised, then I agree with Holgorsen that there needs to be a reciprocating level from those in the stands. Holgorsen is candid, so it’s not really his M.O. to implore, but his sentiment is valid.

A consistent 60,000 in the stands won’t get WVU an invite to the SEC, but it will show they have the atmosphere to hang with it.

(Big thanks: WVMetroNews) 

Nation’s leading kick returner sidelined by torn ACL

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One of the most electrifying special teams players in the country won’t see the field again until 2019.

South Florida’s Terrence Horne has been diagnosed with a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the 2018 season, the football program has confirmed.  The freshman wide receiver suffered the injury during practice in the week leading up to this past Saturday’s win over East Carolina.

“You hate to lose a player, because he had worked so hard. Not only is he a good football player, he’s an unbelievable young man. Always has a smile on his face, would do anything you ask him to do,” head coach Charlie Strong said by way of the Tampa Bay Times. “That one kind of hurt us.”

Horne currently leads the FBS level in kick return average at an even 47 yards per.  In Week 1, he tied an NCAA single-game record by returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns.

Syracuse’s starting TE out indefinitely due to injury

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Ahead of a matchup of undefeated ACC teams, one of them has taken a hit to its passing attack.

After Syracuse pushed its record to a perfect 4-0 with a Week 4 win over UConn, head coach Dino Babers revealed that Ravian Pierce will be sidelined indefinitely because of an unspecified lower-body injury.  The starting tight end missed the non-conference win over the Huskies because of the issue.

At this point, it’s unclear when the injury took place.

“It’s really kind of disappointing, it kind of snuck up on us,” the head coach said by way of the Syracuse Post-Standard. “He’s such a tough guy. We don’t know exactly when it happened.”

In three games this season, all starts, the senior had caught six passes for 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  In starting nine games last season, the 6-3, 237-pound Pierce’s four receiving touchdowns were tied for second on the team.

Syracuse will travel to unbeaten and second-ranked Clemson this weekend.

Spinal condition forces Northwestern’s leading rusher to retire

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Harsh and decidedly unexpected news coming out of Evanston Monday afternoon will have a significant impact on Northwestern’s football team moving forward.

The football program confirmed earlier today that Jeremy Larkin will be forced to retire from the game of football as a result of a recent diagnosis of cervical stenosis.  The good news is that the condition is not considered life-threatening even as it precludes any future participation in the sport.

Obviously, the sophomore running back’s decision to retire, which came as the football program was coming off its one bye weekend of the season, is effective immediately.

“Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won’t be on that field again, given I’ve played this game since I was five years old,” said Larkin in a statement. “I’m extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first. I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline.”

“This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete,” head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. “But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him. The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can’t wait to see the impact he makes in our world.”

Through three games, Larkin’s 346 yards rushing were easily tops on the Wildcats.  In fact, Larkin currently accounts for an astounding 98.6 percent of the Wildcats’ 351 rushing yards as a team.  Additionally, he has five of their seven rushing touchdowns on the season.

Northwestern will open up Big Ten play this weekend as they host No. 14 Michigan.

Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson set for surgery, out indefinitely

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Virginia Tech’s embarrassing weekend came with a rather substantial personnel loss.

This past Saturday, starting quarterback Josh Jackson went down with a lower-leg injury in then-No. 13 Tech’s historic loss to Old Dominion; it was the Conference USA program’s first-ever win over a Power Five school after nine straight such losses over the last decade.

Monday, the Hokies’ worst fears were realized as Justin Fuente confirmed that Jackson suffered a fractured left fibula during the game and will be sidelined indefinitely.  The signal-caller is set to undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair the damage.

This season prior to the injury, Jackson completed a little over 62 percent of his 58 passes for 575 yards, five touchdowns and an interception.  His 170.3 pass efficiency rating is currently 18th nationally and second among ACC quarterbacks (Boston College’s Anthony Brown, 175.5).

With Jackson sidelined for the foreseeable future, the keys to Tech’s offense will be handed off to Ryan Willis.  The Kansas transfer had to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, and has attempted 25 passes for the Hokies this season.  In that limited action thus far, he has thrown for 195 yards and a touchdown.

The good news is that Willis isn’t exactly new to the starting game at the collegiate level.

Willis started two games during the 2016 season; after throwing three interceptions in each of those mid-October starts, Willis was benched and never played another down for the Jayhawks. In his first season in Lawrence in 2015, Willis set a KU freshman record by throwing for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns as part of his eight starts.

“I feel badly for Josh,” Fuente said in comments distributed by the school earlier today. “He’s a competitive, tough young man. He just kind of got landed on wrong on the play, but know he’ll come back better than ever.

“We turn to Ryan Willis and he performed pretty well last week when he went in there. He’s competitive and he’s been training and working for this opportunity and it’s up to everyone else to step up their game as well and help him out and support him.”