MORGANTOWN-Something just wasn't right when junior defensive lineman Will Clarke began his film study for this Friday's 3:30 p.m. opponent.
Instead of watching the Mountaineers' arch rival Pittsburgh in preparation for the 105th annual Backyard Brawl, the Pittsburgh-native found himself looking at tape on the Cyclones from Iowa State University.
"It is strange and weird," said the 271-pound lineman. "This is usually the time that we start preparing for Pitt. I haven't talked to any guys from Pitt this week, but I did earlier in the season.
"We talked about how it is weird that we will not be playing. Hopefully, something will get worked out to where it can be played again."
But for now, instead of the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) traveling north on Interstate 77 for a little over an hour, they will be boarding a plane on Thanksgiving and traveling to Ames, Iowa, to face an ISU (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) that has already locked up its third bowl appearance in the last four years under head coach Paul Rhoades.
"They've displayed some of the same tendencies over the past few games," said senior defensive lineman Jorge Wright. "They have big offensive linemen, and they really like to run the ball. It's been the same over the past few weeks with them."
Welcomed news for a Mountaineer defense which ranks dead last (No. 120) in the NCAA in passing defense, giving up 366.1 yards per game, but sits at No. 29 in rushing defense, surrendering only 131.9 yards per outing.
"The game is constantly a win-loss battle," continued Clarke. "I can't point to specific points in the game, but there are times when I think we lose focus. We have to work on that."
Problem is, however, the unit has one less day to prepare as WVU's eighth game in its new conference falls on 'Black Friday'-the traditional big shopping day that follows Thanksgiving.
"All of the games that we have lost, the guys are playing hard and working hard in order to try and get a win, but like I said, the ball hasn't always bounced our way," said Wright. "It was pretty much the same last year in terms of effort, but we are not having the same type of luck."
If that trend continues then Clarke, Wright and their teammates will have to wait one more week to pick up win No. 6-making them bowl eligible-when Kansas pays its first-ever visit to Milan Puskar Stadium.
"We are strong willed around here," said senior quarterback Geno Smith. "We have the right leadership in place, and we have the right amount of effort. We all want to win very badly.
"Guys are not going to hang their heads. We understand that we are in a rough stretch, but we know the only way to pull out of it is to win games. We are going to continue to prepare as hard as we can to put ourselves in a situation to win on Friday."
And, Smith and his offensive teammates may have the right opponent to face as the Cyclones' defense is allowing 283.6 yards per game (No. 110) and will be minus one of its standout linebackers as senior Jake Knotts appears to be unready for play.
"His (Knott) backup, (Jeremiah) George, is playing pretty well," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "He was a really good player. I get those two guys mixed up. A.J. Klein is still there, and Jake Knott is the guy that got hurt.
"Two tremendous football players. They are very active, very smart, sure tacklers and always in the right spot. You can tell that they make everyone else around them better. They are very sound on defense, but those guys kind of spearhead that whole thing."