MORGANTOWN-Dana Holgorsen has heard the stories about some of the past Backyard Brawls.
At the moment, they make him kinda sleepy.
It's a game that used to feature head coaches at their alma-maters, guys who knew the history, the grit, the hatred, and the respect.
Now it's a former Houston assistant (Holgorsen) against a former Tulsa coach (Pitt's Todd Graham), though Graham knows the rivalry, as he's a one-time WVU assistant under Rich Rodriguez.
Here's Holgorsen's take.
"I have heard about a few," he said. "It is more about what happened last week and what we had to do to beat Cincinnati. The longer I am here, the better feel I will have for it. You get conversations of that game and people remind me of what happened in 1980 or 1992. You have to worry about getting your guys ready to play and not what happened in the past. That is more fan based and media based."
Pitt (5-5) at West Virginia (7-3)
- Friday, 7 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium
- Spread: West Virginia is a 7-point favorite.
- Series History: Pitt leads 61-39-3.
- TV/Radio: ESPN - (Joe Tessitore - play-by-play, Rod Gilmore - analyst) . Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network - (Tony Caridi - play-by-play, Dwight Wallace - analyst, Hoppy Kercheval - host, Jed Drenning - sideline). Twitter Updates - Twitter.com/WVUSportsScores; Twitter.com/WVUSportsBuzz
It has the potential, after 104 playings, to be history, too, as Pitt is leaving the Big East for the ACC in two seasons and WVU presumes to be heading to the Big 12 after this season. The jury, quite literally, is still out on that, though.
"We should play because of what it means to the community and the state and Pittsburgh," Holgorsen said. "Because the Big 12 is a broader conference, you have to travel a good distance away. We want to make WVU as good as possible from a facilities, coaching, social and educational standpoint. You want to pick non-conference games that are here, but ones that are also close to here."
Pitt, at 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big East, has struggled in Graham's first season, though it is one of five two-loss teams at the top of the very muddled conference. This, among many other things, is certainly an elimination game. (Among all of those two-loss teams, the Mountaineers would win a tie-breaker because they are 26th in the BCS standings - the highest ranked league team).
West Virginia, which had its worst showing of the season in a 26-point loss to Syracuse after its previous bye week, knows that while Pitt's record is just average, things change in this game, where often times, the underdog wins.
West Virginia is a seven-point favorite. In 2007, Pitt beat West Virginia on the road when it was among the top two teams in the country and a 28.5 point bet to win. Two years ago in Morgantown, an unranked WVU team beat Pitt, which was No. 8 in one poll and No. 9 in the other, on a last-second field goal by then-freshman Tyler Bittancurt. (That capped a stretch in which West Virginia had won five of its last six games against ranked opponents).
"We are going to coach pretty hard this week," Holgorsen said Monday. "We are going to work tirelessly and watch a lot of film to put the proper game plan in and keep the kids accountable. We are going get the message across and get our players ready to play. There are only a couple teams in the country that can play bad and still win - that list is still getting smaller and smaller. We are going to expect good things to happen. It is harder to get your guys ready against an unfamiliar opponent than it is in a rivalry game."
Graham promised a high-octane offense when he got the job in the days after the Panthers had hired and fired Mike Haywood after he was charged with domestic violence 16 days into his tenure.
The Pitt offense has sputtered, to say the least.
Pitt, which lost running back Ray Graham, one of the nation's best, to a season-ending injury Oct. 26 against UConn, is fourth in the Big East in total offense at 371.7 yards per game - more than 100 behind league-leading West Virginia. Graham's offense averaged 505 yards at Tulsa last season. Pitt is sixth in scoring offense at 25.6 points per game, nearly two touchdowns behind the Mountaineers, who lead there, too.
Though quarterback Tino Sunseri has elevated his game without Graham, he's still just sixth in the league in pass efficiency, well behind leader Geno Smith. Sunseri has completed 191 of 300 passes for 2,037 yards and nine touchdowns. He's averaging 146 yards per game fewer than Smith. Graham was leading the league in rushing at 119.8 yards per game at the time of his injury.
Still, Holgorsen, who has a history with Todd Graham from the Conference USA days - one that he says is completely overblown thinks they'll get it figured out.
He says Pitt's coach's struggles aren't that much different than his own.
"We both do the same stuff offensively. We are both having a little harder time than our previous stops," Holgorsen said. "It goes back to what the kids are used to. It goes back to how Pitt and WVU's players were trained. We both want to play an up-tempo style, but we aren't doing it as successfully."
Holgorsen has noticed that Pitt has a tendency to get the to the quarterback, as it has 32 quarterback sacks, fourth in the Big East. West Virginia, meanwhile, has 16.
"They bring guys from everywhere," he said. "They are not as big of blitz tendency like Syracuse and Cincinnati, but they also try to create negative plays in the run game."
To combat that, "You have to block people," he said. "I have said for a while that Coach (Bill) Bedenbaugh has done a good job of targeting things right. We have to do a better job of holding up our blocks. When they do bring blitzes, that is when Geno (Smith) has to adjust and get the ball out of his hands."