Conversations From The Car

If anyone thinks the life of covering the Mountaineers for the Blue and Gold News is a glamorous one, think again.

Don't get me wrong, I would not trade the job for anything, but arriving back in Morgantown at 3 a.m. after a six-plus hour drive from Syracuse is not always fun, especially when you have to wake up the next morning and get everything ready for the print edition of the Blue and Gold News.

What the long drive back from the Carrier Dome was good for, though, was a lot of Mountaineer football conversation. After being extremely limited as to what we were allowed to see in preseason practices, Greg Hunter, Chris Richardson and I had a great deal to talk about after WVU's season opener. Here are some of the more interesting topics that filled the inside of the Toyota Prius that took us back to the Mountain State from Central New York.

  • Is West Virginia's defense as good as it looked on Sunday, or is Syracuse's offense just that bad?

    This is a question that every Mountaineer fan is asking, but to be honest the answer is not a simple one. Our consensus answer, though, was that it is a little bit of both.

    That answer may be taking the easy way out, but I think it is an accurate one. Syracuse's offense was certainly limited, as I expected it would be with an option quarterback trying to run the West Coast offense. Perry Patterson was not much of a threat, and West Virginia was able to focus on the run with no real threat from the SU passing game.

    But no matter who it was against, WVU's defense played very well. Crisp tackling is the same whether it comes against Florida State or Florida Atlantic, and the Mountaineer defense did a great job of wrapping up and pulling the Syracuse ball carriers to the ground all afternoon long.

    The WVU D also did a great job of staying at home on the few misdirection plays that the Orange did pull out of the bag. This Mountaineer unit is filled with experience, and every player seems to know his assignments and follow them through. Holding opponents to just slightly more than 100 yards of total offense may not be the norm this season, but this defense is going to be very good.

  • This year's individual statistics could be interesting.

    If you wanted to figure out who West Virginia's best players were in 2004, all you had to do was take a look at the stat sheet. Chris Henry's receiving numbers, Rasheed Marshall's passing and rushing numbers and Kay-Jay Harris' rushing numbers left little doubt as to who WVU felt were its go-to guys.

    This year, though, things could be a little different. With two quarterbacks, four running backs and enough receivers to fill four football teams firmly in the mix, don't expect many staggering individual statistics from the 2005 Mountaineers

    What you should expect, however, are big fourth-quarter numbers from the WVU offense as a whole. Coach Rodriguez and staff are using multiple running backs, multiple quarterbacks and even multiple receivers not because they can't find anybody good enough to fill a starting spot, but because there is more than one player at each position who has proven he deserves to play.

    When Pat White comes in the game to relieve Adam Bednarik or when Jason Gwaltney comes in to run for Jason Colson, there is not much of a drop-off in talent, if any. Using all of these players allows everyone to stay fresh, and that should really pay off late in games when defenses are worn down and looking for a break.

    This formula could also work for the Mountaineer defense, which is making similar substitutions on the defensive line and alternating series with Dee McCann and Antonio Lewis at one corner.

  • Who does Adam Bednarik remind you of?

    That was one of the more entertaining questions discussed on the drive home. The immediate answer from Greg Hunter was Jake Kelchner. Adam's toughness and decision making reminded Greg of the skills that "Jake the Snake" showed on the way to leading the Mountaineers to an undefeated regular season in 1993.

    I remember well watching Kelchner and Darren Studstill sock it to Miami and Boston College to end a magical season, but because I was only 13 years old at the time, I don't really have a vivid enough picture of the type of quarterback Kelchner was to accurately make the comparison.

    My first thought — as a die-hard Steelers fan — was of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. Like "Big Ben," Bednarik is not as fast as many of his contemporaries, but that doesn't mean he can't hurt you with his feet. Both Roethlisberger and Bednarik are more than willing to put their heads down and plow through defenders, and their rushing statistics are often a surprise to opposing defenders.

    But if teams start focusing just on Bednarik's rushing abilities, look out! The Pennsylvania native knows how to throw the football, and he can hurt you through the air just as easily.

  • What is up with the Syracuse fans?

    Throughout the month of August I constantly read about how pumped up Syracuse fans were for the 2005 season, and arriving in New York did little to change my mind. There did seem to be a new type of buzz surrounding this team, and wearing our gold and blue, we heard a great deal of heckling from the 'Cuse fans that were confident their team could back up their comments.

    If it had been election day in Syracuse, new head coach Greg Robinson could have won any position he wanted. The game program labeled him as, "The Chosen One," and the roar he received when walking onto the new Carrier Dome turf was one of the loudest of the day.

    It did not take long, however, for the angry mob to turn. By the second quarter, "boo birds" were already flying around inside the dome, and it would only get worse from there.

    When Ernest Hunter's safety put the Mountaineers on top 12-7 with 8:02 remaining on the fourth quarter clock, fans piled out of the Carrier Dome as if a pack of lions had gotten loose in the stands. The Orange were just one score away from winning the game, but the orange clad fans had already given up.

    And you thought WVU fans were fickle.

  • The Big East Conference is wide open.

    Our staff came to this conclusion after watching Notre Dame and Pitt on Saturday night and then catching the end of the Louisville/Kentucky game from the Carrier Dome press box.

    Those two teams, picked by almost everyone to win the conference, showed some signs of vulnerability that could make this season's conference race an interesting one.

    Pitt was completely dominated by Notre Dame on both sides of the football, and I have seen bigger defensive lines in Class AA high school football games than the one I saw wearing Panthers across their jerseys.

    As for the Cardinals — the team that all of the "experts" claimed would win the Big East in their first season as a member — if it weren't for a fumble on the one-yard line they could have lost to a Kentucky team that won just two games in 2004. Louisville could still be a quality football team, but I saw enough questions to keep myself from putting an L beside the Louisville game on my WVU pocket schedule.

  • Maryland has not done much to improve from its 5-6 finish a season ago.

    Many were predicting a return to the ACC's elite for the Terps before the season began, but the big question is why? They still don't have a dominant quarterback, their defense is built entirely around one player and that confidence they had in 2002 and 2003 is gone.

    A 23-20 come-from-behind win against Navy did little to change my perception. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw two interceptions against the less-than-intimidating Midshipmen defense, and D'Qwell Jackson was the only Terrapin that seemed to be able to make a tackle.

    Maryland will still be a very tough opponent for the Mountaineers, but if you are a Maryland fan don't make your reservations for a bowl game just yet.

  • Marcus Vick may be closer to Ron Mexico than Michael Vick.

    Maybe Marcus Vick should start hanging out with the Hilton sisters or Ashley Simpson, because all the attention he is getting is coming only from his last name.

    College football analysts are already picking Virginia Tech as a possible national champion, and all of them list Marcus Vick as a reason why. I am sorry, but a player who leads an offense to just one touchdown while completing less than half of his passes does not exactly fill me with fear.

    If Marcus' last name were Jones, Smith, Kinder — or even Mexico for that matter — he would be just another junior quarterback trying to replace one of the school's best.

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