Extra Points

Sitting around the airport, on the plane and in the car trying to get back home from Connecticut, I had plenty of time to stew about a number of things that have upset me over the course of the 2004 season, and especially last week in New England.

Instead of sitting around stewing about all of them, I decided it was time to put them out where everybody can see them. Many of them will probably be accepted about as well as a rotten banana in the apple bobbing tub, but I don't mind the criticism. Maybe it will take some of it off Rasheed Marshall and on me for a little while.

That brings me to my first point. Why is it that everywhere I travel with the Mountaineers I hear about how great our quarterback is, but when I come home I hear nothing but criticism?

The praise is not coming from just opposing fans either, although I do hear a lot of it from that direction. The praise is coming from college football coaches, who know the game better than any of us could ever dream of.

It came from JMU head coach Mickey Matthews, who stated without hesitation that Rasheed was the best player on the WVU team and that he was the biggest problem that the Dukes had to overcome in trying to pull an upset. It also came from Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, who said that Rasheed was the best athlete he and his team have faced.

Even the media in the opposing cities realize his value. A reporter from Connecticut got very little argument in the postgame media room when he commented that Rasheed was the best quarterback, running back and punter on Rentschler Field last Wednesday. It is just amazing how he is respected around the country.

But here in the Mountain State, he is held on a level only slightly above Dan Dakich, who turned his back on the Mountaineers after being given the opportunity to coach the WVU basketball program. It is time that No. 2 is respected at home as much as he is on the road.

How, though, can Marshall ever get respect from the fans when some home-state reporters would much rather see the Mountaineers fall flat on their face so that they can write a diatribe on how bad things are than to see them succeed?

Then again, maybe fans across the country don't realize where or what West Virginia is. Despite the fact that our fans proudly sing "Country Roads", our uniforms say Mountaineers across the front of them and a flying WV — not a flying V — is displayed on our helmets, many people still do not know where we are from.

I heard many fans say something about Virginia, and the biggest sports news organization in the United States even got it wrong. Just after West Virginia's win, a story appeared on ESPN's Web Site with the title, "No. 16 Hokies run over UConn in Big East opener." Yes, that is us, the Hokies from WVU. I simply cannot understand how someone can get a job at a company like ESPN and not even get a team's mascot right in a story.

These are the "experts" that we go to for our daily dose of college football information. The fact that nobody caught this mistake in time to have it off of the site by 1 a.m. Thursday morning, nearly three hours after the game's conclusion, does not say much about the rest of the staff's knowledge either.

While I am on the subject of the major players in sports media, I have to mention the comments that I heard from ABC's Jack Arute and Loren Matthews, who were in attendance at the game. I have always thought that anyone who had made it that far in the sports media industry was supposed to be impartial.

The fact that the continually groaned when the Huskies failed and cheered when they succeeded made it clear they were openly rooting for the home team. Plus, the conversations they were having about play-calling and the WVU program showed that they had very little knowledge of anything about West Virginia football. I am sure, however, that when they are asked on some radio or television show, they will readily offer their opinion without hesitation.

Another of the comments that I overheard that had my blood boiling was a statement that I have heard many times this season. Both of the ABC representatives believed that the Big East should be stripped of its automatic BCS berth.

I cannot understand why this has been such a common topic this season. When making the decision to continue the Big East's bid, the BCS committee was attempting to give the Big East a chance to get things back in order before it made a final decision.

The league does not even include all the teams it will eventually have, and many are already calling for the end of the Big East. It is not West Virginia, Syracuse or even Pitt's fault that BC and Miami bolted the Big East like a four-year-old in a haunted house, and these teams should be given some time to recover.

From what I have seen in 2004, that recovery will eventually happen. Louisville is already a strong program, and who knows what will happen in Pittsburgh and Syracuse if the two coaches are finally let go. UConn also is building a strong program, and I saw nothing on Wednesday night to change my feelings that they will eventually get there.

The Huskies have a top-notch facility, and there are already plans of adding seats to the 40,000 seat stadium. Everything at Rentschler Field was run first class, and the fans are really getting into football. Sure basketball is king in Connecticut, but football is quickly catching on. The fans were very passionate once the game started, and it was a great atmosphere for college football. The money is obviously there, and I expect nothing less than a rise to the top for the UConn program. Just give the Big East some time to rebuild. It will be fine.

Now that I have everyone else corrected, it is time to take a look at the Mountaineers. When are these penalties ever going to stop> A questionable hold and a touchy interference call are one thing, but constant offsides penalties and personal fouls come down to nothing more than discipline. West Virginia has to stop all the talking and just play football.

With that being said, I do think there is a difference in the talking that comes from the mouth of Adam Jones and what comes from the mouth of Chris Henry.

I don't like trash talk to take over the game no matter what, but I can accept it more coming from a guy like Pacman. Sure, Jones talks a good game, but he always backs it up. Nobody can say that No. 9 does not give it his all on every play and put his heart and soul into the game. The talk is simply a part of his personality, and it would be a shame to tone down any of his aggressiveness.

From Henry, though, the talk needs to stop. I am not saying that he is not a phenomenal athlete, he certainly is. But I am not convinced that he tries his best every play. I have watched "Slim" quit on ball after ball, and he does not always make the plays that elite receivers are supposed to make. Henry seems to be more worried about talking a good game and not getting hurt than he is about helping the Mountaineers win. It is just time to close the mouth and make the plays he is capable of making. If he had done it against Virginia Tech, West Virginia may be 6-0 right now.

Finally, I have to touch on all of the lineup changes that were made on Wednesday night. To me, they were a refreshing change. It is rare to see a team where every spot is truly open every week, but that is just what WVU has.

It does not matter if you are a lineman who has started 30 straight games, a blue-chip recruit or a walk-on. The best player will be on the field. That creates great competition in practice and motivates every player to give his best at all times.

It was easy to feel bad for Jeff Berk, who lost his spot in the starting lineup, but if Rich Rodriguez and Rick Trickett felt that Jeremy Sheffey was playing better, the move was the correct one. If Berk is the type of Mountaineer that we want on our team, he will come back stronger, play harder in practice and work his way back into the lineup. If he is the better player, he will start.

There was, however, one personnel move that blew my mind. That was the insertion of Pernell Williams into the lineup.

At the time of Williams' first entrance, Jason Colson had totaled 61 yards on seven carries, and West Virginia was moving the ball quite well on the ground. It wasn't exactly as if WVU needed a spark. Colson had just come off a long run, and he needed a breather. There was a back standing on the sidelines, however, who was ready to give him one.

Bryan Wright was expected to play in Wednesday's game and was on the field for a handful of plays, but he did not touch the football a single time. To me, Wright had earned that opportunity. He was the only WVU back who ran the ball hard against JMU, and his performance against UCF may have been the difference in that game. After both the Virginia Tech and JMU games, Rodriguez commented that he should have used Wright more often.

In a perfect situation against UConn, however, he went with a freshman who had not played a single down and still had his redshirt intact. This was a move I could just not fathom six games into the season.

In his defense, Williams did run the ball quite well. Nobody can dispute the fact that his performance was impressive. But was it really needed?

If Kay Jay Harris and Erick Phillips ever get healthy again, WVU will be overloaded with players who want to carry the ball. I just don't understand why you would not want to given a talent like Williams a year to grow and have him for four more years. I just do not see him getting enough carries this year to warrant the breaking of the redshirt.

I know what many of you are thinking. Isn't this guy the editor of Bryan Wright's hometown paper? That fact is true, and I will readily admit that I may be a little biased, but so are the guys at ABC. I am a little partial to the Romney Rocket, but if anybody can give me a clear reason why he should not have been given a chance, I will certainly consider your opinion.

I ask you just one favor. Look at the run against JMU, the screen pass against UCF and the block he made against Virginia Tech to free Rasheed Marshall before you come forth with the evidence.

By now, I am sure you are ready for me to step down from my soapbox, and I am about ready to do so. Before I finish, though, I must also quickly discuss WVU's play-calling. Last week there was a great deal of talk about Rodriguez's play choices, and I have to admit I agreed with most of it. The offense against Virginia Tech lacked imagination, and it had about as much success as Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

Rodriguez and company made nice adjustments this week, however, and it really showed. The option runs, the quarterback draws, the quick outs and even the deep balls took advantage of what the UConn defense was giving the Mountaineers.

The defensive game plan was also strong. West Virginia did not allow Orlovsky to pick them apart, and at the end of three quarters the UConn quarterback had just 100 yards through the air. He was able to pad the stats in the fourth, as WVU loosened up with a big lead, but Jeff Casteel's plan was a solid one. West Virginia found a way to put pressure on the all-everything quarterback, and that was the difference in the game.

I will now step down with just one last comment. Thursday night's game is a big one, and the stadium should be packed. If Connecticut can sell out a week night game, WVU should be able to do the same. A sea of gold and noise that rivals a jet engine should great the Orange as they come into Morgantown. Anything less would be a shame.

Cam Huffman is the sports editor of the Hampshire Review and a staff writer for the Blue & Gold News. The opinions expressed herein are his own.

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