Ready To Go

Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez was at his most complimentary when discussing his team as it prepares for Sunday's opener with Syracuse.

"I've been very pleased with the way guys prepared this summer," Rodriguez said on Monday's Big East conference call. "Everyone came into camp in great shape. The guys have been very focused, and their attitude has been excellent. We are excited to get the season going this weekend."

Rodriguez did mention that injuries at did slow progress at some positions during preparations, and although he did not name them, there's no doubt that one of the affected spots was wide receiver, where the Mountaineers have struggled to find consistent productivity throughout his regime. However, overall, the fifth-year WVU coach indicated he was pleased with the progress his team made.

Another thing Rodriguez has in common with his colleagues across the nation is a wish for more preparation time. However, he admitted that's not a sentiment shared by his team.

"When I talk to players, they are ready to play. The coaches would like another two weeks," he said with a laugh. "But we are ready for a game this week. We have guys settling in, going to class and getting used to the practice routine, and they are ready to go."


A comparison was made to new Syracuse coach Greg Robinson and Rodriguez in that both were "rebuilding" programs in their first year on the job. Rodriguez said that he didn't believe the two situations were exactly the same, but did note one important thing that all new coaches must have as they attempt to put their stamp on the program.

"It's important to have a plan and have everyone believe in the plan and be able to execute it," Rodriguez said. "But, in my opinion, Syracuse doesn't need a major turnaround. They haven't been bad the past couple of years. They were 6-6 last year. That's no like 3-8. They have players and a great tradition there, plus all the enthusiasm and excitement a new coach brings.

Every new coach or staff will bring a certain level of excitement and energy just because they are new," he continued. "Greg and his staff have great credentials. Add in the fact it's a conference game, and I'm sure it will be an electric atmosphere."

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Rodriguez also commented on the tradition of competition that exists between the two schools.

"It's been a long standing rivalry. We've had some good games with them, especially in the Dome. We have a long history of exciting games, and they are tough to beat in the Dome. Our guys know the challenge they are facing. We have a lot of guys who will be in there the first time, and we are trying to explain to them what they will be facing."

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Given his druthers, WVU's head man would much rather be opening with a cupcake home opponent than on the road in a conference clashing.

"I'd rather play a non-conference game first, especially with a young team," Rodriguez said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd rather open with someone easy at home. But, the schedule is what it is, and we will be thrown right into the fire. The hope is that if things go wrong early, that we don't panic."

Given the option, Rodriguez would prefer the ability to play a scrimmage game before the season to help gauge the progress of his team. He realizes that problems such as additional missed classroom time and whether to make the game open to the public or not are major stumbling blocks to the game.

Currently, Division I basketball schools are allowed to play a closed pre-season scrimmage. WVU has faced Kent State in such a matchup the past two seasons.

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Rodriguez reiterated that he's still playing the guessing game as to the Orange's offensive and defensive schemes.

"It's a little different preparing for a first game. "They have a new staff, and we have to guesstimate what they have done in the past. We've looked at what Greg has done with the defense at Texas and with the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, and what the offensive coordinator (Brian Pariani) did at Denver. There are a whole lot of things we are trying to prepare for, but we can't prepare for everything. We have to be ready to adjust and get settled into our schemes, because who's to say they won't come out and do something completely different?"

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Running back Jason Colson has had two excellent games against Syracuse, a school that recruited him as a defensive back. Colson came off the bench to spell an injured Quincy Wilson in 2003 and gained 56 yards on 13 carries in WVU's win at the Dome, then racked up 113 yards in the Mountaineers' third consecutive win a year ago.

"Jason had a real good camp," Rodriguez acknowledged. "He's a veteran guy. He played some slot receiver for us this fall. He's stronger and more knowledgeable of the offense, and more confident. He's a big part of our offense. He's in great shape and is excited to get ready to go."

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Rodriguez again acknowledged that the Dome environment is a different one than most road venues.

"Both the noise and the fans are right on top of you," he said of the major differences. "The lighting is different, and it takes a while to adjust. You can go in the day before, but it's different with 44 thousand people in there. We'll go in there and walk around, and hope to be ready on Sunday."

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