With the game a go for September 11, Rodriguez also reflected on the significance of that date, and the differences he has seen since the terrorist attacks three years ago.
"We probably see more effect in our travel with the extended security," the Grant Town, W. Va. native said of the changes that day wrought. "It does make you reflect on things outside of football. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking this is the end all and be all, but it's not the most important thing. It just goes to show there are a lot deeper problems than what just happened that one day. We take a lot for granted, but nothing more so than our freedom. That's why we should all be happy."
In that same train of thought, Rodriguez, who gets a great deal of fan mail, noted that receiving letters from servicemen and women are his favorites.
"I got a letter from overseas couple of weeks ago, from an in-state native in Iraq. I usually share them with the team. I think it's important for them to see all the people they are representing."
While Rodriguez was in a contemplative mood about the significance of Saturday's anniversary, that didn't keep him from showering praise on Central Florida. Rodriguez obviously has a great deal of respect for head coach George O'Leary, and believes that the Golden Knights have the ability to compete with anyone.
"We have some talent and so do they. They are in the state of Florida, and they had some guys last year and gave us a battle. Their quarterback is one of the most highly recruited guys in the state.
"I'm impressed with (running back) Alex Haynes," Rodriguez continued. "He reminds us of Erick Phillips a little bit. He catches the ball and is a really good blocker. He had some nice runs against Wisconsin, and against us last year too. I am really impressed with their athleticism at wide receiver, and with the catches their tight end made. He had a one-handed grab last week, and will cause some matchup problems for a lot of teams."
Personnel matters were again a topic of conversation, but fortunately the injury list is short. Erick Phillips' injured knees are still not testing with as much strength as hoped, so he is still at least three weeks away from returning to practice. At best, Phillips probably won't see game action until mid-October at the earliest.
Defensive lineman Ben Lynch may not be 100% by Saturday, but should be able to play and contribute. Ryan Thomas will be limited in practice for the next couple of days, but is expected to be o.k. by game time.
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Rodriguez said that the starting offensive line will remain the same, with Tim Brown at center and Garin Justice at guard. Jeremy Hines, who lost his spot due to conditioning issues, will remain a substitute.
"Jeremy played well enough that we have confidence in him, and we have eight guys that we feel comfortable with," Rodriguez said. We have some flexibility, but the starters will be the same this week. It wasn't the lines best performance ever, but they were really physical and came off the ball well. Tim Brown and Dan Mozes played really well, and Garin Justice had a good game.
The other positions up in the air are slot receiver and punter. John Pennington, Eddie Jackson, and Charles Hales are all battling for the start in the slot, but just like at running back, those that aren't on the field for the first snap will play. Rodriguez was also pleased with the play of Abraham Jones, who moved over from the defense during the last week of preseason practice.
"He's still learning route running, but he has the speed and works really hard, and he knows how to get up on people and block them," he said of Jones, whose physical style makes him a natural at the latter skill.
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Rodriguez entertained a number of questions about the punting game, which was less than satisfactory against the Pirates. He observed that while some players perform better "when the lights come on", that's not the style of player he wants.
"I guess Mercury was behind him and Pluto somewhere else. The stars weren't aligned for them, that's for sure," Rodriguez said of the kickers' performance against East Carolina. "Or maybe it was mental. When they start that psychological talk, I have to get someone else. I don't understand it. Just kick it hard and far," Rodriguez said with a smile.
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Rodriguez continues to believe that the passing game is improving, and is close to a level where it can win a tight game.
"We had two deep balls that were well defended, and two others we thought were easy throws that we didn't make. There were some things in the passing game that we didn't complete. I think we are more advanced than we have been in the couple years, and I think we are more prepared to do that in a game where we have to throw it to win it."
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In order to prepare for the natural grass in the Citrus Bowl, the team is practicing on the grass field this week.