Surprise! FSU Loaded

Believe it or not, we're already less than a month away from the Toyota Gator Bowl where the Mountaineers will look to salvage their final game of an underachieving season and get a big-time program building win over the mighty Florida State Seminoles.

In the first of two press conferences to be held in Morgantown prior to the bowl game, head coach Rich Rodriguez offered his thoughts on the Seminoles and a number of other topics Friday morning at the Puskar Center.

Rodriguez noted that the preparation schedule for this year's Gator Bowl would be a tad bit different than the preparation schedule for last year's game.

"We're going to have a light practice on the next two Sundays, which I normally don't do. We'll get a practice in next Friday. During finals we're not practicing except for that Friday, the last day of finals, will be an evening practice. We're trying to get nine or ten days in here, and then our five down at the bowl site. Finals kind of throw a wrench in it because finals are a week later this year than they were last year."

Last year, exams were held in the second week of December, ending roughly around the 10th, but this year since classes started a week later, finals will also be held a week later than normal.

Personnel is certainly a question that will figure prominently into planning for the bowl game, but Coach Rod feels it's a little premature to set a two-deep in stone.

"I think it's way too early to say what the depth chart is going to be for the bowl game. I can probably tell you more later after we get into bowl practices. I don't anticipate major changes, but at the same time, I think there will be some."

Among the areas open for competition are the kicker and punter positions. Phil Brady and Brad Cooper have held those two spots, respectively, for the entire regular season, but consistency has yet to be found at either position.

"It's open. Right now, we don't have a starting kicker for the Gator Bowl. Same thing with punter. I can't tell you who's going to be the starting kicker and punter for the Gator Bowl."

Brady will try to hold off Morgantown native Eric Daugherty, while Cooper is in a dead heat with redshirt freshman Andy Good for the place kicking job. Good replaced Cooper in the second half of last week's loss to Pitt, and hit his only field goal attempt from 31 yards out.

Rodriguez has gotten the chance to watch some film on the Seminoles and came away very impressed, as you might imagine.

"I've watched some film on Florida State's defensive games and I'll watch one film then have to quit watching it because it will put me in a bad mood all day. I think defensively they may be the best, most athletic defense that we've played since I've been here."

While many Seminoles fans might view going to the Gator Bowl as a "rebuilding year," the fact remains that they are still one of the deepest and most talented teams in the entire country. As usual, the Florida State defense is among the best in the nation.

"They've struggled at times offensively, particularly at quarterback, but defensively this might be the best defense they've had down there in a long, long time," says Rodriguez. "

Rodriguez singles out the FSU defensive line as one particular area of concern.

"Usually (the opponents) will have one or two, like BC has the Bulman kid and Kiwanuka on the end. Florida State they've got all four of them that worry you, and then they've got four more behind them that worry you…they play about ten of them. I try to hone in on one number, and they've got ten different ones. I'm thinking ‘if we had any one of those ten, it would help us.' We've got some good players, but we don't have one that's been recruited by Florida State."

Another area in which Florida State has an unquestioned advantage is speed. Don Nehlen once said, referring to a WVU opponent, that "there's not a player on that team that can't run like the devil." That phrase certainly applies to the garnet and gold.

"No question. Everybody can run. They chase you down, they get off blocks, it's all athleticism," says Rodriguez.

The fourth year head coach admits that the FSU speed will certainly have an effect on the Mountaineer game plan.

"I guess you've just got to be patient a little bit. You can't get frustrated when you're not moving the ball and just abandon your game plan. You can't run sideways too much because they'll chase you down.

"What you've got to do is find out what you can do well. Like any other game, you've got to find a couple of plays that can work. Watching them, and we don't have all the games broken down yet, but you have to watch the big runs and big passes that people have against them. I have a feeling that will be a pretty short cut-up. I don't anticipate getting a whole lot of great ideas from the opponents they've played."

This will certainly be one of the stiffest challenges of Rodriguez's young coaching career. While their offense is certainly not what it was in the days of Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick, they still have some of the most athletic players in the nation on that side of the ball.

"The thing that Florida State does, and anybody's going to tell you this, is that they're extremely athletic and talented. They play very hard. When you've got great athletes that play hard, and then you have the all-time winningest coach in the history of college football…you're not going to find any chinks in their armor," says Rodriguez.

Still, there's no doubt that a win over Florida State would be the biggest of the Rodriguez era. Granted, going to the Fiesta Bowl and playing Utah would have been more profitable, but a win over the Utes wouldn't do nearly as much for the program, and the future of the Big East Conference as a whole, as a Mountaineer victory over the Seminoles would. Rodriguez knows that too.

"I think all the bowl games are important. The stature, and the status of Florida State's history, I think that would be a huge boost for the conference. Beating Florida State, who people recognize every year as one of the best teams in the country, would be a big boost to the league and our reputation."

With just under a month to go until the game, anything is still possible. Not many people are giving the Blue and Gold a chance. We all know though, that the Mountaineers play best when their backs are against the wall.


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