Defenses In the Spotlight

"If our defense doesn't play any better than it did the last two weeks, we have no chance to win. None."

Those were the definitive words of head coach Rich Rodriguez as he discussed the state of his team prior to the showdown with Boston College on Saturday. Rodriguez has been a bit displeased with the emotion and effort of his team, and especially with the defense, over the last two games. His desire for his team to play "with a hard edge" has been met with play more akin to a dull knife.

"BC has one of the best defenses in the country," Rodriguez said, figuring that his team would score somewhere south of the 30-plus points it has been averaging. "I told the defense yesterday, if we are going to win the Big East Championship, it will start on defense.

"I have seen that capability out of them this year. We played very well at times, but I think our defense has to be one that overachieves. Not that we don't have talent, but we can't just show up and beat people. We have to be physical, be in the right spot at the right time or the game won't even be close."

Rodriguez doesn't think the problem is with personnel, because he has seen the same sort of lackadaisical play from some of his substitutes. And he doesn't think it's a case of Big East offenses catching up with his defensive schemes, because Jeff Casteel and the rest of the staff have added a number of tweaks and twists over the past couple of seasons. What he does know, however, is that he won't be waiting around if the first unit fails to perform.

"We will be less patient in this game," said Rodriguez, who isn't renowned for his patience in the first place. "If they aren't performing, we'll put some new guys in there. I think our guys have character, because they don't give in. But we've been letting teams control the ball, which we can't do. Boston College will beat us if we do."


Rodriguez and his staff routinely watch a tape of big plays against that week's opponent, mostly to figure out things that worked and to see if they can be duplicated. However, the Eagles' defense is so solid, he said there wasn't much to see on that particular cut of film

"BC's defense doesn't make any mistakes. That's the shortest [tape of big plays] we've seen this year. They've been good defensively the past couple of years, but this is probably the best one they've had. They run a lot of zone blitzes from both sides, where they will drop a defensive end off. Sometimes they'll drop the nose guard. That's something they've done for several years, but they stay deep and don't give up the home run."

Although he wouldn't say it, Rodriguez might be able to take advantage of the Eagles' smallish corners. He notes, however, that the BC scheme does a lot of things to help avoid isolations of those players.

"They don't play a lot of man coverage – they do a lot of two deep or four deep and help. They do a lot of disguising on when they are going to keep the safety deep or bring him down to help against the run game."

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Rodriguez again said that he and his team don't attach any more importance to this game because of Boston College's duplicitous behavior in joining the ACC.

"The fans might be a little more fired up because of it, but is it any extra motivation for players or coaches? I don't think so. We're just worried about winning the game and what's at stake."

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Wide receiver Eddie Jackson has an ACL and MCL sprain in his knee. He jogged on it yesterday and it swelled up, so he will likely be out for the game. Running back Jason Colson is still limited during the midweek practices, but should be fine by the weekend. Linebacker Mo Howard has a knee sprain and probably will not play, and nickelback Antonio Lewis' ankle may still keep him out.

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With all the hoopla surrounding the contest, it still figures to come down to a battle of the basics.

"The key battle will be their run defense against our rushing game. We don't have to run for 200 to win, but we have to run for something," Rodriguez said. "We wouldn't be comfortable throwing it 70 times a game. Let's be honest, we don't have as many wide receivers as we'd like to have due to injuries. We have tough tight ends but we don't have any Kellen Winslows running down there creating mismatches against linebackers. But, we have to have another plan in case we can't run it.

"We do have throws to the tight end in the game plan, and have called it a few times, but they haven't gotten open. People say ‘Throw the ball to the tight end.' But all I care about is scoring. I don't care how we do it. They say, ‘throw it to him, he's open all the time'. Well, maybe not. That's ok for the average Joe Fan that thinks he knows football."

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What was the difference in last year's game in Chestnut Hill? Four big plays, according to Coach Rod.

"Two big plays by Pac Man, and a couple of big passes by Charles Hales were the difference. We got behind, and it looked ugly, but we didn't panic. I also remember not stopping them at all. It looked ugly, and I was pleased to get the win. Overall, I think they are a better team than last year. I hope we are too."

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Rodriguez also talked about the emotion of Senior Day, and of the meeting Friday night where all seniors are given a chance to speak to their teammates.

"When you are a college player, and I speak from experience, you don't think it's ever going to end. But it hits you that this is the last one. When we have the Friday night talk, it's emotional. Every guy gets the chance to talk as long as they want.

"Grant Wiley last year, it took him 10 minutes to talk one minute. He was all choked up. Avon Cobourne talked about setting the school record, but all he wanted to do was be a good teammate. He just wanted everyone to treat him as a teammate. You talk about emotional; we were all emotional after than one.

" I still think the greatest achievement isn't the Heisman or any of the awards, but to complete all four years and graduate. There are just so many stories. How many guys in Ben Lynch's and Rasheed Marshall's class are still here today? It's an honor to finish through your senior year."

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There are no plans to play Boston College in the foreseeable future, and probably for even further down the line. The bad feelings between the two schools, while never openly spoken of, simply won't permit any polite discussions, let alone negotiations. However, that didn't stop Rodriguez from looking back on one of the shining games of his career, the 1984 contest when the Mountaineers rallied for a big win at home over the Eagles.

In 1984 I didn't start, but we were down 20-6 to Flutie and we won 21-20. The game was on ABC, and I played the last 3 quarters. I got home and turned on the TV to watch it, and my wife (Rita, who was a cheerleader) got more airtime than I did," Rodriguez joked. "It was a fun game. It started in afternoon and finished at night. We didn't shut Flutie down as much as we just beat them."

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