Battle-Tested Orange Up Next

WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez is impressed with Syracuse despite its three losses, and acknowledges that the Orange's tough schedule should help them as they continue with Big East conference play.

"I'm very impressed [with Syracuse]," Rodriguez said. "Their schedule has been tough. They have three losses to three of the best teams in the country in Purdue, Virginia and Florida State. I do think it's a help to them to get battle tested. They played a great game against the Seminoles, they have a tremendous amount of size on both fronts, and they have a Heisman Trophy candidate in Walter Reyes. We will get their best shot, and they are tied for first in the Big East with us."

Rodriguez also defended another shot at WVU's non-conference schedule when he was asked to compare the Mountaineers' philosophy for out of conference games with that of the Orange.

"My philosophy isn't that different. A lot of our games were scheduled before I got here. We've tried to schedule some tough non-conference games, and our scheduled isn't as tough as Syracuse's this year, because they've had three of those games. I think [that type of schedule] helps you get battle tested, but you hope you don't lose confidence if you don't do well in those games. There are pros and cons with a schedule like that. Also, Syracuse only has five home games this year, where we have to have six."

As the Mountaineers prepare for the Thursday night ESPN contest, they are continuing to look at some younger players in certain positions. The impact of Pernell Williams, who racked up 89 yards and a touchdown last week in his first collegiate outing, served as a notice of things to come.

"I think we're seeing more freshmen have an impact this year, for several reasons. Guys coming out of high school are more prepared, and coaches are more willing to throw them in there. Part of that is also due to injuries, which give younger guys a chance to play more quickly. That's why I hope the five in five rule passes, so we don't have to worry about redshirting. I think it will be good for college football.

"Pernell has learned our system and our offense as quickly as any true freshman at any position that I've had. When you tell him something, he remembers it. He's helped us at a time when we needed it. We may have some other guys getting to that point. We're trying to make it a competitive situation in practice, and if they can prove it in the game they can earn the spot. That's what Jeff Noechel did last week. We're not giving up on anyone, but we are still looking at some young guys to give us more depth."

RIFLE REPORTS

Rodriguez noted that his players have settled into a groove with the midweek games.

"Having done the midweek game before has helped us get ready, so we've got it pretty much down now. Usually you have 10 or 11 days to get ready for one, but this time it's just a week. Our players have had to adjust to it. It's the way it's going to be in leagues throughout the country, so you better be ready for it.

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Kay Jay Harris is back to unrestricted practice, and is expected to play against the Orange. No word on which back will get the start, but Rodriguez joked that the emergence of Pernell Williams might have had something to do with Kay Jay's recovery.

"Anytime you have a young guy step up, the bruises heal faster that way," Rodriguez quipped.

* * *

Rodriguez noted that one of Rasheed Marshall's biggest improvements is understanding how teams defend the Mountaineer offense.

"Rasheed understands our offense, but where I think where he's grown is in how teams are defending us and how to attack them. We are so critical of our quarterbacks, and me especially because I'm with them all the time, but he has played very well this year, and is a tremendous leader. He's playing his best football by far.

"I think he's handled [the media] very well," Rodriguez said of the attention garnered by the Mountaineer star. I've been around guys that have had that star status, like Shaun King at Tulane and Woody Dantzler at Clemson, and Rasheed has handled it humbly and well."


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