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WVU to focus on the present not future

November 23, 2011

MORGANTOWN-West Virginia's football game against old rival Pitt here at 7 p.m. Friday could be the last of what is known as the "Backyard Brawl."

While both current head coaches think the 104-year series should be continued, WVU is headed for the Big 12 and Pitt for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

So whether the rivalry is to continue on a non-conference basis is a decision for the universities' powers that-be to decide everything.

But players on both teams really aren't concerned about the "Backyard Brawl's" future. They're focusing strictly on this year's game because it's "a must win" situation.

The Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2 BIG EAST) and the Panthers (5-5, 3-2 BIG EAST) are among five teams that are still in the running for the BIG EAST Conference Championship.

WVU needs to defeat both Pitt and South Florida (5-5, 1-4 BIG EAST) next Thursday night at Tampa to claim at least a share of the league title.

"We're going to try to do our best and win these last two (regular-season) games," said junior quarterback Geno Smith. "Then we'll see what happens.

"But right now we just want to win The Backyard Brawl. We know how important it is to the state.

"So we're going out there and battle hard."

However, Smith said he regards this as "just another game" like he has the season's first 10. He believes the team is still getting better.

"We just got to go out there, execute, stick to our goals and play hard and with intensity," Smith said. "We've got a good opportunity."

Smith ranks No. 1 in the BIG EAST in passing and passing efficiency. He has completed 209 of 417 passes for 3,497 yards and 24 touchdowns.

WVU's top two receivers also are league leaders. Steadman Bailey has 57 catches has 57 catches for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Tavon Austin owns 72 receptions for 907 yards and four scores.

"Everyone on our team is getting hyped for the "Backyard Brawl," said Bailey, a sophomore. "It's a big game, a very important game for all of us."

Austin, a junior, said he'd love to get the 93 receiving yards he needs to reach 1,000 and he hopes that would help the team finish with nine victories on the season.

Junior placekicker Tyler Bitancurt who beat Pitt with a game-winning field goal as a freshman, is looking forward to playing well in Friday night's game.

"It's huge for us," he commented. "We always show up knowing it's important."

Asked whether he's like to win it with a late field goal, Bitancurt replied:

"No, I want us to win by more than three points!"

West Virginia is a 7 1/2-point favorite.



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