September 10, 2022
Morgantown, West Virginia
West Virginia Mountaineers vs Kansas Jayhawks
Final Score: 42 – 55 (OT)
The flagship school for the state of West Virginia is located here in Morgantown, a college town in the far northern part of the state along the Monongalia River. Despite a population of just 30,000, it is the third largest city in this rural state. Along with being home to WVU, Morgantown is also a proficient glass producer and was once home to many of their factories. The university has over 25,000 students and it is widely known as a party school, an opinion I certainly agreed with after walking through the tailgate in the Blue Lot. After decades in the Big East, the Mountaineers are an outlier misfit in the Big 12. It’s unfortunate because it makes the most sense for them to be in the ACC, but the stuck-up conference won’t accept them. The football team historically has been good with a near .600 winning percentage. They were at their best during the Don Nehlen era, which included a pair of undefeated regular seasons in 1988 and 1993 (though both seasons ended in a bowl loss). The period from 2002 – 2011 wasn’t too shabby either. The last decade however, has seen a downfall as they have had only one 10-win season with no conference championships. Their home field is Milan Puskar Stadium (capacity: 60,000), a facility that opened in 1980.
Prestige Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
There are multiple campuses spread out through Morgantown and the stadium is located in the Health Sciences section north of downtown. This neighborhood (Evansdale) contains school buildings, apartment complexes and a hospital that frames the background for the stadium and main tailgating scene. Fast food joints make up most of the commerce west of the stadium with a decent spot or two in the spread-out area. Downtown is a couple miles south and while you can expect a college-town vibe along High Street, the rest of the city is quite bleh. Outside of a small history museum (which was nice, but took us less than hour to go through), your best bet for pre-game exploring is the beautiful overlook at Coopers Rock, 30 minutes to the west.
Location Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Morgantown is rural, but it’s only an hour or so down I-79 from Pittsburgh. Those coming from the east will use I-68 over the mountains. The town itself is full of hilly, winding streets, many of which are poorly designed and full of bumps. This also leads to horrible traffic after the game. Single game parking is available in multiple lots around this part of campus, it’s just that you will be taking a very long walk to the stadium (20-30 minutes) and it won’t be a flat walk. Another option includes taking a shuttle bus from Mountaineer Mall. Our choice was for easy parking in a downtown garage and then utilize the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system. This cool little automated people mover was the first in the U.S. when it opened in 1975. 69 electronically powered vehicles connect campus with downtown and each little pod has eight seats and room for another 5-10 to stand. It’s an 11-minute ride from end to end and the closest station to the stadium is at the Health and Sciences Center, which is a 10-minute walk to the stadium. It’s a neat ride, but the PRT does have issues though as it occasionally breaks down and waiting to see which track to get on is not ideal. The PRT is free on game days, but the crazy part is that it closes EXACTLY 1 hour after the game, no matter if people are still waiting to board or not. Thankfully, we barely made it and the ride back was an entertaining adventure as I enjoyed feeling like I was in college again. The inebriated group weren’t too over the top and it is a fun ride.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 3 out of 8
The elevation changes around the stadium does not afford a lot of good looks at the exterior, though there isn’t much to admire from the outside. A dreary concrete makes up the sideline views with the underside of the upper deck rows being seen as well. Periodically, you’ll see some more sleek silver attachments to the facility. The more travelled north end has the entrance to luxury seating and the building has the name of the stadium on it, along with a large WV logo on the back of the scoreboard.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
One concourse serves both decks of seating and along the sidelines, this can certainly cause some congestion, especially given concrete pillars in the middle of the walkway and stairs for the upper deck that jut outward. Side areas do open up somewhat and corners also have space, along with a nice set of tables if you want to eat there. The concourse is framed by concrete, though there are gray brick buildings for bathrooms and concessions. A fair number of displays add some color to the area, along with signage that is in blue and gold. Small TVs keep track of the action while you may have a long wait in line (which for me was 15 minutes during the 2nd quarter). The set-up around the ends of the stadium is not great as you have to climb down stairs to get to the narrow walkway around the south end. Over at the other end, you have to take a longer walk along a pathway that goes well behind the suite building. There are no views of the field from any part of the concourse.
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Food offerings are pretty standard for a stadium and everything you would expect to be here, is. The Philly Cheesesteak and the “Bodacious Burger” are perhaps the most noteworthy items. If you want to avoid fatty and greasy, there is one small cart that offers subs and even a PB&J sandwich. I do recommend getting a Pepperoni Roll, only because it is a staple in the state. Beer, wine and seltzers are all available and from the beer department, I could not find anything more than national brands.
Food Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
The stadium is rather simple in that the sidelines feature a lower and upper deck comprising of metal bleachers. Seat numbers are tight, but the row width and height aren’t too bad. The bleachers are set on a concrete base and the concave design combined with proximity to the playing field makes for good sightlines. In the back of the lower deck and underneath the overhang are low-grade boxes, which feature a chairback seat, overhead heaters and a TV. While the upper deck finishes near the corners, the lower rung of seats extends around the South end with an indentation for a club level. What is odd and unattractive is how far back these seats are as there is a ton of space on the field behind the end zone (I’m not sure why). Over at the North end, there are no traditional seats as the area features a terrace club and a variety of premium sections. I will say that I like how they handle upgraded seating here, as it does not disrupt or impede the primary seats on the sides.
Interior Ranking: 9 out of 14
Props to the scoreboard operator, who masterfully ran the controls. Along with a solid hype video at the start, that person played live video of the Pitt-Tennessee at the end of halftime AND later in the game, showed a live snippet of basketball coach Bob Huggins getting inducted to the Hall of Fame. As for the actual scoreboard, the bigger one is in the South end and it is quite large. They don’t use all of it for video and while that’s a little disappointing, the screen is more than adequate. On the sides are ads and at the top are team logos and the stadium name. The smaller scoreboard at the other end is still really good and a ribbon display on the façade below has the vital game information.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3.5 out of 4
Before heading into the stadium, make sure to visit the Hall of Traditions, located in the attached building near the South end. This opens 3 hours before gameday and features a large space containing Mountaineer Football history. It’s small, but really well done and the Bowl / Championship trophies are cool to see. Around the grounds, you’ll find a Legends Walk near the North entrance, a statue to philanthropist, Milan Puskar (with a cool silver WV behind him) and then a 350-pound block of coal on a pedestal near the Northeast gate. The state has coal mining ingrained in their culture and this new-ish tradition features the players touching it as they arrive to the stadium on the Mountaineer Manwalk. The piece comes from the Upper Big Branch mine, site of a tragic accident a decade ago. West Virginia continues to do a great job with their displays on and inside the stadium. A variety of displays can be seen painted onto the actual building and the inside concourse pillars feature famous moments and players. Five retired numbers are found on the wall of the North Terrace.
Displays Ranking: 6 out of 6
Tickets vary depending on opponent, though the range isn’t too dramatic. This season, a seat for the Towson game is $50 – $100, while if you want to go see WV play Oklahoma, it goes up to $80 – $150. The secondary market isn’t a bad place for tickets and you can expect a similar range to what is seen at the box office. Overall, prices are near to a bit above average within the Big XII. Parking costs are $20 – $40. Concession prices weren’t bad as a Hot Dog cost $4.50, a Burger/Fries combo was $10.50 and a beer stayed under double digits.
Cost Ranking: 6 out of 8
West Virginia has a large and passionate fan base as Mountaineer Football is by far the most popular team in the state. The tailgate scene (specifically in the Blue Lot) is crazy. Despite the abundance of alcohol, West Virginia has become known as a very welcoming place within Big XII circles. The days of burning couches in the streets seem to be over. Milan Puskar Stadium turns into the biggest city in West Virginia on Gamedays and the team often plays in front of a mostly full house. Attendance is similar to most other teams in the conference. For this one against bottom-dweller Kansas, the stadium was about 80% full. I know all of college football has a leaving early problem, but it was especially disappointing here. The game was close most of the way and by the end of the 3rd quarter, every person within touching distance of my seat had left. Yeah, it was raining, but after waiting so long to get “normal” back, why leave early? During OT, the stadium was half full. A little slack is given with the team being perennially .500 because if they were Top 25 good (like in the 90s and early 2000s), empty seats would be rare and the atmosphere would rival any top program.
Fan Support Ranking: 7 out of 8
The atmosphere was great as it starts with the Pride of West Virginia marching band as they kick things off with a fabulous pregame show. The performance is entertaining and it is highlighted by their entrance in the WV logo and then the finale in the formation of the state outline. During that time, I caught wind of a little, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, but no one was really singing it. The real show is when they play it post-game after a win as everyone sways and sings. Given the loss, I was saddened not to experience that and I think they would be much better suited making this an in-game tradition so that everyone is involved and it serves as a pump-up song. The famed Mountaineer mascot kicks things off by firing the rifle and it is usually accompanied by an echoing “Let’s Go”….”Mountaineers”. Offensive first down conversions and defensive third downs have hand signal little cheers that most participate in. Themed color days give the stadium a good look as some games feature everyone in Gold or the occasion “Stripe-Out” (blue and gold). Noise is decent, but it is not deafening. Initial touchdowns were met with muted exuberance as the place wasn’t exactly going nuts (maybe because it was Kansas). I thought that a lot of the time, the crowd was reactive as opposed to proactive as they struggled to get anything spontaneous going. There were some boos as the team struggled and I couldn’t believe the lack of football sense when the crowd started (and kept) cheering loudly as WV lined up to go for a game-tying 2-point conversion. Obviously, you need to shut up in that situation. At least, the noise got to a point in OT where I had to shout to the person next to me.
Atmosphere Ranking: 11.5 out of 14
The Mountaineer mascot began appearing in the early 20th century and the tradition continues today with a student donning the buckskin uniform, coonskin hat and rifle. It is certainly a tremendous honor for each person…..The week before our game, West Virginia renewed their fierce rivalry with the University of Pittsburgh in a game known as the Backyard Brawl. The hatred was evident given the amount of “Eat Sh** Pitt” shirts that I saw…..Milan Puskar Stadium had a few great ideas as I liked seeing the free Stay Hydrated coolers, which encouraged drinking water. Also nearby were chairbacks for rent ($15) and after the game, you just leave them on the bleachers…..On the other side of things, this was a very old school stadium experience: paper tickets, game programs, vendors walking the aisles. I like it!……A chain link fence separates the students in the upper deck.
West Virginia came into the game as a 14-point favorite and they acted like it by easily moving the ball and scoring two touchdowns in the first five minutes. It looked for sure like this was going to be a blowout of the conference’s perennial doormats, however, Kansas got their footing and they started moving the ball with ease. By halftime, it was 28-21 and the turning point came in the second half, when a muffed punt led to the Jayhawks grabbing the lead on the ensuing drive. Kansas eventually took a 42-31 lead. The Mountaineers still had some left in them as they made the comeback with a field goal and touchdown (led by a Bryce Ford-Wheaton catch while on his backside). The 2-point conversion was good and we went to Overtime. That is where a boneheaded penalty occurred as a Roughing the Passer on a failed 3rd down conversion gave the Jayhawks another chance. Kansas took it and scored a TD, then got a Pick-Six to end the game and walk out of the stadium with a rare road win. Jalen Daniels threw for 219 yards and ran for another 85.