Many coaches would shy away from the fact that UC is starting to get a little love on the national level, but Kirkland said he is more worried about the traffic jam atop the WVC standings.
"There's a [virtual] three-way tie for first and you can't hide that stuff from your players," Kirkland said. "They look at it and they know the position we're in. We need to embrace it and be ready against Glenville State, who probably has the best skill-position players on offense that we'll see all year."
Football is played in three phases, and while the West Virginia State offense and defense played up to par against preseason league favorite Shepherd last week, its special teams fell way short of the mark.
The Rams' Keon Robinson ran a punt back 61 yards for a score and a kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown in last week's 41-20 win over the Yellow Jackets. Add in an interception return for a touchdown by Shepherd's De'On Johnson and suddenly that 21-point margin of victory seems a little closer.
But such has been life at West Virginia State as of late. The Jackets (2-6, 1-4) have lost their last three games and six of their last seven heading into today's matchup against West Virginia Wesleyan. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Senior Day in Institute.
"Obviously we want to try to send our seniors out with a win, but we need a win as a team - we need one bad," State coach Earl Monroe said. "This team has been up and down and we've lost some close ones."
Like UC, State is limping into today's game and will have to take on a Wesleyan team (2-6, 1-4) that has also lost three in a row and will be eager to pick up a win.
"They threw it 64 times last week," Monroe said of the Bobcats. "They can throw it around, they're a big-play kind of offense. We're going to try to preach eliminating big plays, make them drive on us.
"Defensively, they bump and run and bring blitzes from everywhere. The challenge that we have will be to protect and recognize blitzes and pick them up so we can give [quarterback] Ricky [Phillips] a chance."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pr...@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.