Wingbone Wishes

Mountaineer head football coach Rich Rodriguez sees a different challenge this week when West Virginia hosts Wofford.

Where WVU was attacking and blitzing last week against Syracuse, the style of play against the Terriers' wingbone attack will look decidedly different.

"It's hard to defend, and it's assignment football," Rodriguez said. "The schools that run it do it year in and year out. They recruit to it, and know everything they are supposed to do in it. It's also an advantage for them in that the teams they play don't see it very often. It's the only time we will see it this year. It's tough to learn [all your assignments in a week, and this is a short week for us. All of our focus to this point was trying to get ready for Syracuse, so we hadn't done any work on them yet."

Wofford's modified wishbone, which is run by several schools, demands that each defender stay in his assigned area, control his gaps, and stick with the defensive game plan. One slipup can mean a big run for the offense, which brings the ball at all angles against the defense. It's different from the standard wishbone, which featured three backs in set positions behind the quarterback.

"The biggest difference is they take the tailback or slots and put them out wider or as wingbacks," Rodriguez explained. "They run some perimeter sweeps and some option. They run a lot of reverses and misdirection. In the standard wishbone, you put one and half men on the quarterback, one and a half on the full back and one and a half on the halfbacks and looked to see if you could chase them down. Now you have to prepare for a lot more. They even do some elements of the spread – they do a couple of things we do.

"Their offensive line is not as big, but they cut block you a lot," WVU's fifth-year coach continued. "They have a bunch of good solid runners, and they know the system. They run it well."

Rodriguez has an ace up his sleeve in the form of his 3-3-5 defense, but in a way that is also a disadvantage. The lack of film on other 3-3-5 defenses against the wingbone doesn't give WVU much to look at as they prepare.


Wofford went for fourth down conversions eight times in its opener against Georgetown (Ky.), converting three. The high number might have had something to do with field position, according to Rodriguez.

"Some of it was short yardage, and some were in that gray area around 30-yard line where it would be a 48-yard field goal," Rodriguez observed. "I don't know what their deal is with their kicker, how much confidence they have in them, but he kicked the ball off pretty well.

* * *

The injury list was relatively short coming out of the Syracuse game, aside from the usual bumps and bruises. Darius Reynaud suffered a minor sprained shoulder, but stayed in the contest. Rayshawn Bolden was in a boot on Friday night before the game and didn't play. Jason Gwaltney was not 100% as he continued to rehabilitate an ankle sprain.

* * *

Rodriguez noted that he has been inundated with questions about why WVU is playing a 1AA team.

"When someone drops you in February like Central Florida did, you have to find someone to play and that will play you at home. We've played some good 1AAs. We played James Madison last year and they won the national title, and Wofford is ranked. But we needed a home game, and UCF pulled the rug out from under us. There are a lot of teams out there worse than them. Someone told me they have played nine 1A games in the last seven years, so they are used to it. They played at Maryland in 2002.

* * *

Rodriguez was not concerned about a dropoff in motivation after facing a conference opponent in the first game.

"The guys are anxious to play in front of the home crowd," he said," so I'm not worried about them being down. This is the first time they will have to worry about tickets, family coming to visit, and those types of things. But for a lot of them, it will be the first time they have been at a home game as a Mountaineer. Last week it was a learning experience [about being on the road], and this week it will be the same.

"Now, all they will hear all week from you guys is that they should beat Wofford," he said in reference to the media. "If you don't talk to them all week it would be better."

* * *

Rodriguez faced Coach Mike Ayers once before, in 1988, and he hasn't forgotten it.

"He beat me to death -- it was 40-something to nothing in the last game of football at Salem," Rodriguez recalled, "and they played Clemson and South Carolina the year after I left Clemson. The score wound up with 20-point wins, but they were tough games. I doubt they will be playing them again. I have a lot of respect for him."

* * *

Rodriguez believed that his special teams showed a good bit of promise.

"I thought our returns were good. The kickoff returns were very good. And I thought our kickoff team did a nice job of covering kicks and pinning them down inside the 25 or the 20. We pick a special team of the week, and the kickoff team was it this week. A couple of the punts were not the best, but that was partly because he was scrambling after the snap. We did a good job on the rugby punts."

Rodriguez also commented on the spread punt, which looks decidedly odd but brought good coverage results against the Orange. He also detailed some of the thoughts he has in fashioning WVU's unconventional punt game.

"One of films of teams we studied on the spread punt was Wofford. We saw it on the Maryland tape in 2002. They were one of the leading punt teams that year, and we were looking for anything to have success against a great returner. That scheme – Clemson, Texas A&M and Bowling Green have all gone to it. It has been a neat concept and we think we have a lot of things off of it we can do. We think our players understand it.

[In the offense punt] you have to have a QB that can do it [punt]," he said as he started out with the basics. "Like I said before, Adam will be in there, because Pat might miss it. He might do a Charlie Brown on it. But the way we look at it, fourth down play is still an offensive play. We want to use it as a play that can gain yards. Whether it's your offense or the punt team. I think we are getting that through to the guys.

"If they send their punt return team on the field or we have the ability to get the first down, we'll go for it. Usually that's past the 50 where it's a little safer to do it. Fourth down it's still our ball – we want to make them defend us. [Adam] has been doing it in practice for a year, and we have a few new wrinkles for it.

* * *

Rodriguez indicated that every freshman he takes on a trip is slated to play, but that sometimes game circumstances intervene. Against Syracuse, those conspired against Steve Slaton and John Holmes, but Rodriguez intends to get them into the game this week. There are exceptions, such as freshman center Tim Reed, who, as a backup center, would play only in the event of injuries to more than one player in front of him.

"They went three and out so many times it didn't allow for as many players as we would have played. Their longest drive was six plays and 29 yards. We would like to play more people, but we didn't have the opportunity."

* * *

Rodriguez also revealed that holder George Shehl has earned a scholarship.

* * *

Rodriguez also pooh-poohed the idea that WVU's offensive discontinuity was caused by alternating quarterbacks.

"If we didn't practice like we do, it could be a problem," Rodriguez said, clearly frustrated with the continued harping on the two quarterback rotation. "But we roll them in and out like that in practice. It's the same with the running backs and wide receivers. There's no set rotation. I know it's unconventional, but it's the way we do it, and our players are comfortable with it.

* * *

Rodriguez said he was "proud of our offensive scout team", and noted that might have been the best job they have ever done in preparing and getting after the defensive line.

"They took great pride in their preparation and that makes a big difference."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories