Things Of That Nature - James Madison

If there has been one central theme for the first four games of West Virginia's season it has been survival. After four weeks, it is clear that WVU has not yet played its best game, but it is 4-0.

This week the opponent was JMU, a Division 1-AA squad, and had it been anyone else the Mountaineers may have been dealt their first loss. WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez is well aware of that fact, and he was careful to point out the fact that things must improve if the Ws are to continue.

"I didn't really see a whole lot I liked," said Rodriguez of last Saturday's win over the Dukes of James Madison. "I saw a lot I didn't like as far as our execution and our intensity level. We need to play with a greater sense of urgency than what we did. It just wasn't very good football. We have a lot of work to do."

The fourth year head coach attributes much of the weekend's problems to a lack of intensity. Getting up to play an Atlantic 10 opponent is not an easy task for the No. 6 team in the country, and the lack of enthusiasm was evident from the time West Virginia ran through the smoking helmet.

"You would think that if you work all year for 11 games it should be easy to be at your peak for 11, but inevitably that doesn't happen," explained Coach Rod. "I would hope that would be the only time this year that we are not ready. It should be a lesson to our guys that we need to be ready mentally if we want to reach some of our goals."

Another major problem, according to Rodriguez, was the number of mental mistakes that occurred against the Dukes. Penalties and missed assignments plagued WVU all afternoon long and kept JMU in the game for much longer than anyone anticipated. Some of these mistakes are considered acceptable in the season's opening week, but by week four all of the mental errors should be ironed out.

"As the season goes along, mental errors should be reduced," said Rodriguez. "That was one thing that was very disappointing. Some of the mental errors that we are making now, we shouldn't be making anymore. The three sacks that we gave up were just mental mistakes."

Fortunately for Rodriguez's troops, those mistakes have not been costly to this point. But a trip to Blacksburg to meet the Virginia Tech Hokies is next on the slate, and Coach Rod is well aware of the fact that the team must play at its best if a 5-0 start is to becoming a reality instead of just a dream.

"We will probably get their best game of the year," said West Virginia's head man. "The crowd will be into it, and our guys will have to be ready to strap it up. If we don't play any better than we did Saturday, we will get run out of the stadium."

At 2-2, Virginia Tech may not be playing at the level that it has in years past, but a win at Lane Stadium is never an easy task. Some of the names have changed and they are now in the ACC instead of the Big East, but Virginia Tech is still much the same football team.

"They have great team speed, they are athletic and they play extremely hard," said Rodriguez. "Obviously, they are very good on special teams. Playing down there is always a tough environment. It is one of the better environments in college football."

One thing that West Virginia does have in its corner is confidence. The Mountaineers have downed the Hokies in two straight contests, and everyone wearing Blue & Gold will go into Saturday's showdown believing that WVU will leave with a W. Last season's 28-7 win is still fresh in the Mountaineers' minds, and they know what they need to do to win.

"That was the best football game we played last year," admitted Rodriguez. "We executed in all three phases, we didn't beat ourselves, we played physical and we played smart."

West Virginia also had the advantage of seeing a defense that is very similar to what it will face this week in Blacksburg. JMU ran a similar eight-man front, and West Virginia was able to experiment a little with what to do against the alignment. But doing it against Virginia Tech will be a much different task than doing it against James Madison.

"Virginia Tech will do it with a little bit bigger and faster guys, but their schemes are very similar," explained Rodriguez. "Everybody does different movements out of it, but their base is basically the same."

West Virginia should take a relatively healthy team into the Old Dominion. Mike Henshaw, who has been battling a hamstring injury, may not be ready to go next Saturday, but Rodriguez believes everyone else should be ready to play. Jay Henry, who missed Saturday's game, was held out more for precautionary reasons than anything else, and Rodriguez expects the linebacker to be ready for action for WVU's fifth game of the year. Adam Lehnortt continues to battle an ankle injury, but Rodriguez promises that the trainers are optimistic that the Pennsylvania native will be in playing shape on Saturday.

Keeping anyone off the field could be a chore. The Mountaineers know the importance of the game, and the ill feelings the teams have for each other continues to grow year after year.

"I think it is a pretty big rivalry, particularly for the folks in the southern part of the state," said Rodriguez. "It has always been a pretty good one, but I think it is continuing to build. It means a lot to a lot of people in the southern part of the state. We shouldn't have any problems getting our guys ready to play this week."

Could next week be the week that Rodriguez finally has some positive comments for his Saturday afternoon chat with the media? By 5 o'clock on Saturday, the answer should be clear.

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