Holgorsen: A lot riding on West Virginia's game vs. South Florida

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Dana Holgorsen did not mince words Monday expressing the magnitude of West Virginia's regular-season finale Thursday at South Florida.

"This game is what this team is going to be remembered for," said Holgorsen. "You can take the rest of the games and you can delete them. You can erase them. You can forget them. What this team's going to be remembered for is this weekend at South Florida."

West Virginia -- the team that threw for 463 yards against No. 1-ranked LSU, only to be pummeled by Syracuse a month later by a crazy barrage of blitzes and eventually fall again to Louisville -- finds itself two days from a finale with major implications.

The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2) can earn a share of the Big East Conference title and have a chance to be the league's representative to the Orange Bowl -- if they can win, and Cincinnati can beat Connecticut to close the season.

Not exactly as good as being in control of their destiny, but they'll take it, Holgorsen said.

"I wish we could have a few of those games back we didn't win," he said. "But we've moved forward from them. It's right there for us. This is what it's about. A national TV game, a quality opponent. Win the game and we get a share of the Big East championship. That's where we wanted to be. It's right there for us."

Holgorsen said while he won't discuss the specific scenario with his team, he will emphasize how critical it is to not hold back, not save anything for this one.

"There's no time to take a break. Whatever we've done, we've got to do it again, got to do it right now," he said. "We don't have time to rest, feel good about a victory. We don't have time for any of that. It does come down to this one game because it's the only game left."

Changes remain

Several personnel changes made during the Backyard Brawl will stick this week.

Curtis Feight and Quinton Spain will start at right guard and tackle Thursday, and Corey Smith, who took over punting duties, will continue to do so.

West Virginia struggled to run the ball against Pitt, gaining minus-2 yards in the first half when the change on the line was made. In the second half, the Mountaineers scored on a drive that included five running plays out of seven, and scored another rushing touchdown to take the lead.

"They've got a long ways to go. They're not fantastic by any stretch of the imagination," Holgorsen said. "They came in, they didn't bat an eye. Feight didn't know much, he's played O-line for a year, and Spain is a freshman. We're talking about two young kids, but they're massive. Big bodied guys that go in and physically can handle the game."

Smith, who had been relieved of his duties just three games into the season in favor of backup Mike Molinari, returned midgame against Pitt and averaged 57.2 yards on four punts, once pinning the Panthers on the 2.

"He could've folded his tent six or seven weeks ago. He remained the kickoff guy and has done a fantastic job for us," Holgorsen said. "It's funny, he asked me on Wednesday prior to the Friday game. He said, 'You ever going to let me do this again?' I was like, yeah you better be ready. You never know when you're time's going to come."

Quick hits

Devon Brown also will be considered the team's punt returner after a muffed punt by Tavon Austin. ... South Florida coach Skip Holtz said Monday that it's unclear if quarterback B.J. Daniels (shoulder) will be healthy enough to play Thursday. West Virginia will prepare to face both Daniels and his backup Bobby Eveld. ... Senior defensive tackle Julian Miller was named the Big East defensive player of the week and punter Smith was named the league's special teams player of the week. Miller had a four-sack, 12-tackle performance against Pitt and Smith helped dramatically with field position. ... West Virginia practiced late Sunday and Monday night for an 8 p.m. start Thursday on ESPN. "We don't have our guys till 9 o'clock tonight. When we start stretching at nine, it's going to be approximately the first quarter," Holgorsen said Monday.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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