MORGANTOWN — When you are a placekicker, as Josh Lambert is for West Virginia, you have a lot of time to think.
Let’s face it, you aren’t pouring over the playbook, studying film of your opponent, even out there scrimmaging throughout the practice.
You do your kicking and work on things, but you talk and you think.
As you can guess, with Alabama on the horizon just a day away now in West Virginia’s opener, Lambert has thought about the mystique that comes with facing college royalty like the Crimson Tide and whether or not they win some games just because they are Alabama.
Lambert has devised his own theory on it.
“You have to play the game, not the name,” he says, poetically. “What they do doesn’t concern me. We are all focused on what we need to do. They’re a good team, a storied program … but you can’t play into all the type.”
As a college athlete, Lambert has to have an opinion on whether Alabama’s reputation can give it an edge.
“I think against good teams, no, it doesn’t matter,” Lambert said. “It depends on the makeup of your team.”
Play West Liberty and that may happen, but it shouldn’t happen playing West Virginia.
“I’m sure there are some smaller schools who go and play against bigger, more famous schools and they have lost the game before it starts, but you can’t buy into it.”
And Lambert doesn’t think WVU is buying into that.
“Me and the whole specialists group were talking about it last night,” Lambert said. “I have a really, really good feeling about this team. We are a lot closer than we’ve ever been. I think we’re a lot closer even than my true freshman year when I got here and watched that team. I think we have a lot more chemistry.”
That was the 2012 team — a team with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. It was a team that won its first five games before falling apart, a sign that maybe that team wasn’t very close, wasn’t filled with good chemistry, perhaps with too many players looking toward potential NFL careers before finishing their college careers.
This year’s team, Lambert believes, is driven by that 4-8 season a year ago and by facing the 12th most difficult schedule in the nation. It is playing for school pride, for team pride this year … and he is certainly a big part of that.
Rest assured, if this group of Mountaineers have improved as much as coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff seem to believe it has, Lambert will find himself as the center of attention at some point during the year, lining up to kick a field goal that can win or tie an important game.
Does a placekicker want that scenario? Does he stand on the sideline during a game thinking “please give me a shot at winning this in the last second” or would he instead rather see his team up 50-3 in the final seconds?
“At the beginning of last year I was kind of iffy,” said Lambert, who was a redshirt freshman last year. “I would question myself if it came down to it. Could I do it?”
Then came an overtime game against TCU, a game that would see the Horned Frogs blow a fourth-quarter lead, then make a surprising decision when they won the flip and took the ball first in overtime. West Virginia’s defense held and TCU missed a 62-yard field goal attempt.
Now it was on Lambert and he was ready to handle such pressure.
“Before that field goal I knew. I was ready for it. I was hoping he would miss his so I could go out there and make mine,” he said.
His 34-yard field goal was true.
“That was my first game-winner ever, even in high school,” he said.
Now Lambert has the experience behind him and should benefit from it, although Lambert did throw a scare into everyone in WVU’s final scrimmage in camp when he missed a couple of makeable field goals.
“I was being too hard on myself. I had to get my confidence back because I know I’m better than that,” he said. “You just come in with a different mental approach. Being a kicker, you are going to miss. Everyone’s not perfect every time. You have to be able to shrug it off.”
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Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest, a preseason All-America choice, has been given a one-game suspension for an undisclosed NCAA infraction and will miss the opener against West Virginia. While it’s a break for the Mountaineers, Tide coach Nick Saban pointed out that it won’t be as bad as it could be since Alabama would be playng a lot of nickel against the WVU spread. DePriest was also limited in fall camp by injury, which allowed his backups to get a lot of reps.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel