Focus On Toughness

A week after being trounced by Syracuse, the No. 25 West Virginia football team must get tougher. That's all they've heard this week from coaches, as it's been a hot topic around the Puskar Center.

"It's been brought up – a lot of things that I probably can't repeat," said defensive tackle Julian Miller. "It's definitely one thing that we can't sit here and act like they're wrong, because in every aspect they're right. We have to toughen up and play better defense.

The Orange took apart the Mountaineers in the trenches. All you have to do is look at the statistics from last Friday. The WVU offensive line gave up four sacks and couldn't handle some of the intricate blitzes Syracuse executed. On the defensive side, the Orange gutted WVU for 194 yards on the ground. That was the third team this season to have more than 180 yards rushing on the Mountaineers.

"It's your pride. It's your competitiveness. It's getting tested," said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "You've got to keep stressing it, and keeping working at things that will hopefully help it. That's all you can do. You've got to have something about you, too. There's got to be something that says you're not going to let someone tackle your quarterback."

Two of the defensive players, senior cornerback Keith Tandy and senior linebacker Najee Goode, said that the defense may have been caught off guard by Syracuse, because the Mountaineers don't practice against a tough, run-oriented attack in the spring and summer.

Tandy said it has begun to affect the way the team plays.

It's no surprise that practices have been ramped up a bit this week, according to players, to deal with the toughness that the team expects to face on Saturday. When West Virginia travels to Rutgers, it will face a similar style of team to what it faced last Friday. The Scarlet Knights, under head coach Greg Schiano, is known for their hard-nosed style of play.

"We just need to put that game behind us and get ready for this one," said senior left tackle Don Barclay. "We have to practice better. Everyone has got to be into it, and the energy has got to be high. That will get you back on track for the next game."

Rutgers sports the ninth-best scoring defense and 17th-best total defense in the nation. It also has the fifth-best turnover margin.

"Even if they didn't see what happened against Syracuse, they were probably going to blitz a lot anyway," Bedenbaugh said of Rutgers' defensive scheme. "We saw a bunch of it last week, and hopefully it will help us this week."

Only one team this season – Ohio – has recorded more than 300 yards of passing offense against the Scarlet Knights. That is something the Mountaineers will likely have to do if it wants to score a victory in Piscataway, N.Y.

Rutgers is also much better than it was predicted to be in the preseason. With a 2-1 conference record, Rutgers sits second in the conference behind Cincinnati. Prior to the year, the Scarlet Knights were selected by the conference's media members to finish last in the Big East.


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