Better Than You Think

While many observers might be down on Rutgers after its mistake-filled loss to Pitt last Saturday, Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez continues to maintain that the Scarlet Knights of today are a much different team than the one that took the field in past seasons.

"Rutgers has beaten an SEC team and a Big Ten team – when was the last time they were able to do that?" Rodriguez asked. "They certainly have our attention."

Of course, those two teams were Vanderbilt and Michigan State, both of whom are grazing at the bottom of their respective conferences this year. Still, as Rodriguez pointed out, there's not a great deal of difference between the teams near the top of many leagues and those at the bottom.

Citing last weekend's Mississippi State win over Florida, Rodriguez again made a case for the fact that parity, which has overtaken the National Football League (other than New England) is becoming a watchword in the NCAA as well. He reiterated the support that the Scarlet Knights are getting in terms of facilities.

"Look at their practice field, their indoor practice field, their meeting rooms, their weight rooms. You can tell that it's making a difference," Rodriguez said, who knows a thing or two about resurrecting a program from the depths. He spent seven years at Glenville State, where, he joked, "buying a new weight bench constituted facilities improvements".

After studying several Rutgers films, including the Pitt loss, the Mountaineer mentor was impressed with the aggressive nature of the defense.

"I don't think Rutgers played all that poorly, but Pitt played extremely well. They go after the ball, and you can tell they are coached to strip the ball. They challenge you more than maybe any team we'll play this year. We expect them to pressure us a lot. That's a good plan, because at times we've been able to execute, but at times we haven't.

"They have 27 sacks, and most of them have come from four man pressures. Next to Virginia Tech, they are probably the most active front four we've faced. All four are high motor guys, and they roll a lot of them. The improvement they've made the most over the last few years is in their defensive front. Michigan State had problems with them on the edge, and they do a lot of twisting. Our offensive line will have to be on their toes this week – we can't be lazy or they will run by us. But, that's why we need to run the ball too, to keep those guys from just coming after us."

Rodriguez knows that with the Scarlet Knight defense trying to stop the run, his team will have to have a Plan B to go to if its ground game is slowed.

"We've put a lot of time in on throwing it in practice, because if a team like Rutgers wants to put pressure on you, you better have an answer for it.


Rodriguez smiled when asked about his name being mentioned in connection with the Florida job opening.

"I don't know why. It's a nice compliment, but I don't know why it is."

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Rodriguez on the running backs:

"I don't think Kay Jay played great, but he played ok. It was the kind of a game to get the rust out. We think we have three starters now, don't want to shortchange any of them. It gives us chance to run more of our two back sets. All of our backs are big enough to be blockers, and in our two back sets one of the backs has to be a blocker.

"Last year three wide and two backs was our second or third most popular formation. This year, it's about 15%. Some of that is due to health issues. We had it in the game plan for UCF, and then got a bunch of backs hurt. If we stay healthy, we can do more of that."

Rodriguez expects Harris, along with Jason Colson and Pernell Williams, to split time.

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Our kick coverage was pretty bad. When you have to pooch kick it and give them the ball on the 30 and be happy, that's not too good. Overall sp teams good, but not our best performance.

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Rodriguez also defended the play selection over the past couple of games. Since saying he would attempt to get better balance in the running and passing games after the Tech loss, WVU has averaged just 16 passes per game in its most recent two outings. Part of that is due to the circumstances of the game, according to the coach.

"If you get a lead early in the game, you are going to run more. And, part of it is trying to hang your hat on what you do well," Rodriguez said. "I think our balance has been better the past couple of games. If we have a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter, they are going to have to stop the run first.

"Also, some of the pass plays we call are also quarterback options to run. I tell [Rasheed] if you have green grass and it's a tough fit for a pass, then run it. Sometimes it's easier to run for ten yards than it is to throw it and have the guy catch it. There's less chance of a mistake if you run it."

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The WVU coaching staff has taken note of how the Scarlet Knights use tight end Clark Harris, and have observed that some Rutgers passes are really extensions of the running game.

"He's 6-6 245, and everyone would like to have a tight end like that," Rodriguez admitted. "They've found some mismatches for him, and they create some of them with their scheme. They do some good things with him. They average 42 passes per game, but some of those are more like a run. They are sort of like a sweeps. They will get the ball quick out to a wide receiver or running back with a short pass."

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Rodriguez continues to be cautious about using Adam Jones on offense, mostly due to the concern of wearing him out.

"We've planned on playing him more on offense and doing some more things, but he's playing every snap on defense. We've been running a lot of man-to-man, and then he's playing on the special teams and running back kicks," Rodriguez said. "Then last week he was sick with a cold."

Told that Jones said he could handle any duty thrown his way, and that he had been lobbying to take a direct snap from center, Rodriguez quipped, "He might want to be careful what he wishes for. But I don't think he's ready for a direct snap yet."

Rodriguez did express hopes that another player would emerge who could run some of the plays that were designed for Jones, but noted that when the time comes, he tends to lean on the guys he knows can perform.

"There's an old coaches' adage. ‘In crunch time, think of players, not plays.'"

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Rodriguez and six of his fellow coaches were on the road over the weekend to see players in person, which provides a different perspective than watching them on film. "In person, you can see how fast things are, feel the intensity level, and see some leadership things – things you can't see on film," Rodriguez explained. "On film, you can rewind and watch it again, but you can see the speed of the game and judge the intensity better. Plus, you get to talk to coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, people in the community."

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The new "five in five" legislation, which would allow players five years of athletic eligibility, but eliminate redshirting, is favored by Rodriguez. He noted that, if passed, the measure might help keep some players in school who might otherwise grow impatient waiting for a chance to play. He also observed that the rule would likely allow WVU to play two or three j.v. games per season.

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WVU's focus continues to be on one game at a time, but with an eye toward the larger prize.

"We tell them that every game, every play, could decide the Big East championship," Rodriguez said. "We have our destiny in our hands, but some other people do too."

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Rodriguez said the team will be wearing wristbands this week promoting awareness of college gambling.

"There's way too much pressure from gambling on college athletics. When people start worrying about scores and the over and under on college athletics, that's dangerous."

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Line of the day, concerning what it must feel like to be fired in the middle of the season, as Florida head coach Ron Zook just experienced: "Gosh, I hope I don't find out."

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