MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s rivalry week at West Virginia.
Well, more like rivalry education week.
The West Virginia football team will host 15th-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday in the 53rd meeting of the series.
“I know our fan base is excited about this game,” WVU coach Neal Brown said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “From a fan base standpoint, the rivalry sticks out more than [it does for] the players, just because it hasn’t been played on an annual basis since the … 2000s.”
These long-time rivals have not met for the Black Diamond Trophy since the 2017 season opener at FedEx Field. This will be the first on-campus meeting between the teams since Virginia Tech paid WVU a visit in 2005.
So Brown talked to the Mountaineers (1-1) on Monday about the importance of the rivalry.
“We’re in the process of educating our players about it,” Brown said.
Not that Brown is an expert on the rivalry. The former Troy coach is only in his third season at WVU, so he has never faced Tech before. He had to get a briefing on the rivalry from West Virginia senior analyst Jeff Casteel, who rejoined the staff last year after serving as a WVU assistant coach from 2001-2011.
“For me personally, it’s been very interesting to learn about it, … learning about the emotions that go into the game and how both fan bases feel,” said Brown, whose Mountaineers have lost to Tech three straight times.
“It’s a trophy game. … Any time you play one of those games, it matters. …Virginia Tech’s had possession of the Black Diamond Trophy for over 6,000 days now. That’s a long time.”
Not only did Brown talk to the players about the rivalry “in depth” on Monday, but he planned to have Casteel address the players about it on Tuesday.
Tech and WVU met annually from 1973 through 2005. The teams used to be Big East rivals, but Tech jumped to the ACC in the summer of 2004. The conference switch was the main reason the series ended after nonleague meetings in 2004 and 2005, although there was also a desire by the schools to curtail fans’ sometimes heated behavior at the games. The teams did not meet again until 2017 at the Washington Football Team’s stadium.
This is is the first game of a home-and-home series that will conclude in Blacksburg next year.
Receiver Sean Ryan said he learned Monday about the importance of this game to the fans and the university. He said it is important to the WVU players, too.
“We need to get … an important win, a win that stands out to let everyone know that we’re improving,” Ryan said. “We’re coming here to put on a show.”
Linebacker Exree Loe was on the team in 2017, when he was redshirted, so he is more familiar with the rivalry than most of the Mountaineers.
“I knew it was a big game then, so I know it’s a big game now,” Loe said. “It’s going to be a difficult atmosphere [for Tech].”
The Mountaineers opened this season with a 30-24 loss at Maryland; WVU turned the ball over four times. West Virginia cruised past FCS member Long Island 66-0 last weekend.
“Week One, … that game basically came down to turnovers,” Brown said. “We learned that we can’t turn the ball over. We learned that we’ve got to be better on both fronts. Wasn’t fired up about how we played on defense.
“Last week, … I don’t know if we learned anything. … So I think the tell will be in how we perform on Saturday. It’s a big game.”
Are the Mountaineers ready to take on the nationally ranked Hokies (2-0)?
“I definitely feel like we’re ready,” linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said. “We’re excited to have them come to our building and win back the trophy.”
The Mountaineers are looking forward to playing in front of a sellout crowd Saturday.
Last weekend’s win over Long Island drew 50,911 fans to 60,000-seat Milan Puskar Stadium.
“After our disappointing performance [at Maryland] and then [given] who we were playing last Saturday, I thought our fans turned out [for the home opener],” Brown said. “I was really impressed that they stayed [the whole game].
“And now, probably for the first time … [since] 2019 when we played Texas, this is going to be an electric atmosphere on Saturday,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a fun day.”
WVU is entering a daunting two-game stretch. After taking on the Hokies, West Virginia must visit third-ranked Oklahoma (2-0) next week.
At least by playing a ranked foe this week, Brown knows his team won’t be looking ahead to the Sooners.
“We’ve got our hands full this week. I don’t think our guys are necessarily looking ahead,” Brown said. “Our guys are excited about this one.”