Keys To Victory

Head coach Rich Rodriguez believes that a low scoring game offers his team the best chance to spring an upset against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

"It would behoove us to have a low scoring game," Rodriguez said with a wry grin on Tuesday as he looked at the Mountaineer-Hokie matchup. "We have to play well defensively, eliminate big plays and tackle well. You know they will complete some passes, so you have to get them on the ground. Our crowd if they are into it can help us too. They can cause some communication mistakes. Virginia Tech has played in front of some big crowds, so I don't know how much it will affect them, but it still gives you an advantage to have the crowd on your side."

In order to keep the Hokies from creating the feeding frenzy on defense that they have displayed so far this year, Rodriguez listed a few basic tasks the Mountaineers much achieve to keep the game close. Of course, "basic" doesn't necessarily equate to "easy".

"Don't throw the ball to them, don't drop the ball, don't let them block a kick," Rodriguez said as he enumerated the "don'ts" that must be avoided when facing the Tech defense. "Last year, they blocked a kick against us, and instead of 7-3 at halftime, it's 14-0. You just have to play well, but you don't have to play perfectly."

Rodriguez expanded on the necessities for avoiding blocked placekicks, noting, "if the kicker does his job, 90% of them won't even come close to getting touched. We don't change the blocking or anything like that. You remind them and show them on the film, but other than that you just have to do your job."


Rodriguez is unconcerned with the fact that the officiating crew for the game is from the ACC. As well he might, since just about any conference's whistleblowers are better than those of the Big East.

"I don't pay much attention to where the crew is from," he said. "The only difference is with crews from other conferences, they might not know what you do – like the fact that we are a no huddle team. I meet with them before the game, and it's not a long meeting. They ask you if you do anything new or different, although they probably already know most of what you do. We mention that we are no huddle and have the quarterback punt the ball on fourth down. If we see something on film we want them to watch for we mention it, but it's not a long conversation."

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There haven't been many changes on the personnel and injury fronts, although there was a bit of encouraging news in the latter area. No decision has been made on the starting left guard, where either John Bradshaw or Ryan Stanchek will get the nod. On defense, Jay Henry and Pat Liebig are improving, and could play on Saturday. Anthony Mims, whose hamstring didn't pop but is still a problem, is day to day.

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Rodriguez is also guarding against the danger of his team being too tight for the game. While he will be pointing out the level of effort required to pull another upset, he also wants his players to enjoy the experience.

"This is type of game you get excited about. Sold out, national TV, both teams undefeated. Our guys know it's a little different deal and we have 16 or 17 guys that are starters or co-starters who are playing against them for the first time. I told them I want them to work your tail off this week, but then on Saturday let it loose and have fun."

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There aren't any magic secrets to Tech's defensive success against the run.

"They know the scheme and grew up in it," Rodriguez said. "When you play the same scheme every year, you are going to get better in it, and they are experienced. They have great athletes and a lot of NFL guys on that team. We have to get a hat on a hat and strain a little harder. You have to be physical, and you have to execute. You can't have missed assignments. They are good enough to beat you when you don't make mistakes."

Of course, much the same could be said about West Virginia's defense this year. Rodriguez, of course, didn't mention that.

"I don't know if our guys thought it would be easy to run last week, but they found out everybody will play hard," he said of last week's ground struggles against East Carolina, and what that bodes for this week's game. "We have to play better than we did last week, and better than we did against Maryland. I don't think there will be a lot of surprises schemewise. You can't invent a new offense for one week to try to get a first down."

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Although WVU did have one silly personal foul against East Carolina (called against Rayshawn Bolden, who now might need a telescope to see the top of the depth chart), WVU has been able to cut down on the number of such fouls this year.

"I think the elimination of the penalties is a combination of our emphasis on it and the fact that some of the players that had problems with it are gone," Rodriguez said. "We couldn't have emphasized it more than we did last year. Our guys this year are pretty football smart, and they know how those things can hurt you. Also, the difference in the way game is called can have an effect. We've had things that were a penalty in one game and not in another."

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Rodriguez also addressed a question about Mountaineer fans with a bit of a lecture.

"I think too much has been made out of our fans' behavior. It's not that some fans haven't gone above and beyond on occasions, but they were making it out like major crimes were being committed. I think that was way overblown. Fans can help us win the game. They can be loud on offense and create an electric atmosphere, then be respectful of the other fans here. Basically, they should treat people in a way that you want to be treated."

After a brief pause, he quipped, "Did that sound like a TV commercial? It sounded like it was a Budweiser ad or something."

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Pat McAfee has rebounded nicely from his bad day on Saturday.

"McAfee kicked great in practice yesterday, and only missed one," Rodriguez reported. "I didn't say a whole lot to him about it. We watched film and pointed out a couple of things that he might work on with his technique."

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After hearing about Frank Beamer ramble on about the similarities between the 2003 game (a 28-7 WVU smacking of a favored #3 Virginia Tech team), Rodriguez smiled as he analyzed the intentions of the Hokie coach.

"Coaches always look for parallels," he said. "The game two years ago was totally unexpected. We had felt going in that we had a chance, because we were playing good football. Even though it was not totally shocking to us, it shocked a lot of people. But we aren't 2-4 this year. We are 4-0. [Having that game from two year ago] makes it tougher, but what makes it more tough is that they are better now than they were two years ago. We had some more experience at the skill positions then too. We should be at least double figure underdogs," he wrapped up as he made his observation on the pregame jousting.

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Rodriguez observed that winning this game probably doesn't make a big difference in the scheme of recruiting, but playing well does.

Midweek games might help recruiting more, because more people watch them," he noted. "We can't get nearly as many as players here as we'd like, because there are teams that play on Saturday, and some practice. It's an important game from a recruiting standpoint, but the biggest thing is selling your program. You want to play at a high level in games like this.

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Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese will attend Saturday's game, which will server as the rubber match in the five game set between Frank Beamer and Rich Rodriguez. That pair has two wins each since Rodriguez came aboard at West Virginia in 2001.

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