Passing the Buck

Mountaineer head football coach Rich Rodriguez knows his team has to throw the ball downfield in order to loosen up defenses that crowd the line of scrimmage, but it's easier said than done.

"We can throw the ball deep, because we do it in practice," Rodriguez said in response to a query about letting his quarterbacks throw the ball more often. "We have guys who can throw it, and a couple of guys who can catch it. "We had a nice pass in the last game, and had a couple of them called in the last game that we didn't execute.

"Rutgers will go man to man with us, and when they do that we have to take our shots downfield," he continued. "If you don't take shots deep they will get tighter and tighter on the line. They will also get confidence that they can lock you up one on one and then overload the line."

A few moments later, however, Rodriguez reiterated that this team "has to run the ball to win."

"The way it is right now, with what our situation is, we have to run it to win," he said.


On the injury report, Anthony Mims and Vaughn Rivers remain day to day. Both were in green shirts and saw limited practice action on Monday. No other players are expected to miss the game.

Mims' availability will influence WVU's plans in the secondary. The Mountaineers were clearly tentative at times in their coverage against Virginia Tech.

"The decisions at cornerback depend on Mims," said Rodriguez as he discussed possible changes there. "We will rep Charles Pugh some at cornerback. He's a bigger, more physical player there. I was disappointed last week, because we played cautious at times. Some of those freshmen don't play that way. A lot of teams we have left to play throw the ball a lot and have talented wideouts, so we have to be able to defend that. Rutgers will throw it a lot."

Antonio Lewis, who typically plays short corner, has also been getting some reps at the wide cornerback spot.

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Rodriguez indicated that the defensive line's depth has been bolstered in some areas but weakened in others. Doug Slavonic saw a few reps against the Hokies, and Warren Young, who has been in and out of doghouse during his career, "played as well as anyone", against Tech. Their presence partially made up for the absence of Andrae Wright, who barely reached the double-digit play mark due to a hip pointer. Nose guard Pat Liebig, who has been battling back spasms, is also a concern.

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To complete the defensive changes, linebacker Johnny Holmes will also get the chance to earn playing time this week.

"The plan was to try to redshirt Holmes, but now we will play him," Rodriguez said. "He is one of the faster linebackers we have. One of the problems we have is that when we are blitzing, we aren't getting there. If you blitz and don't get there, it puts the secondary in a tough situation. Johnny gives us a faster guy off the edge. We will work with him and see if we can get him ready."

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Ryan Stanchek also continued to improve, totaling nine knockdowns in the Tech game. Rodriguez noted that the redshirt freshman "has kind of a Dan Mozes type of attitude".

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Dwayne Thompson continues to be bother by leg problems, and Rodriguez is waiting, albeit impatiently, for him to improve in the health department. Jason Colson, who is expected to see more snaps at the slot position with the emergence of Steve Slaton at running back, could also bolster the lack of depth at wide receiver. Slaton and Jason Gwaltney are expected to be the first two backs in the offense against Rutgers.

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Although the Mountaineers have scored no fewer than 31 points against Rutgers over the past six years, and haven't been held under 20 since 1994, Rodriguez said the days of poor Scarlet Knight defenses are over.

"Their defense is more athletic and bringing more pressure, and that's what Coach Schiano has built this team around," he said. "This is the fastest Rutgers front four we have seen and they have the best overall team speed on defense since I have been at West Virginia. They are playing fast and playing hard."

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Slaton's improvement will yield him more playing time, and although Rodriguez said he sill has work to do to strengthen his lower body, his power up high is very good.

"His upper body is strong, and he broke a few tackles when people tried to jump on his back. He has more strength than what you expect, and he has that different gear. He gives you a chance to break a long one. He's still feeling his way, but he is a fast learner.

That learning process was tested on the first play against Virginia Tech, when Slaton mishandled a pitch and retreated nearly to his own end zone before circling back and gaining a few yards.

"He looked like The Longest Yard out there," joked Rodriguez, referring to the final play of the seminal 1970s movie. "He went there and there and back over there."

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Rodriguez saw signs of his team putting the Virginia Tech loss behind it on Monday. He changed the day's routine, allowing the team to lift after practice rather than before, and also shortening the on field session a bit.

"I saw some bounce in their step," he noted.

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Rodriguez praised senior safety Jahmile Addae, who has turned out to be one of the leaders of the team.

"He thinks about being a leader and takes it very seriously," Rodriguez said of the Florida native. "He is conscientious and is a leader all the time, not just when I ask him to be one. He addresses things on his own, and he's very intelligent and well-spoken. He has done a great job and we will miss him,"

Told that Addae has expressed an interest in journalism, Rodriguez arched an eye and cracked, "What did I say about his intelligence?"

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Rodriguez noted that everyone has a means to relieve stress, and his involves an early morning workout session, coupled with some evening time with his children Rhett and Raquel, who can "add some levity to the situation". However, given his choice, he would add one activity to his list.

Our players can relieve some stress in practice by just going out and hitting someone hard," he said. "I'd like to do that too. Maybe the coaches could pad up and go at it."

After considering the size of some of his assistants, the fifth-year coach thought they might have the advantage in some drills his team typically goes through.

"I'd take my staff on some inside run drills," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "We've got some big guys over here. Maybe we could pad up the coaching staffs in middle of the third quarter."

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Rodriguez and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano are the graybeards of the league, despite the fact that both are just in their fifth seasons with their respective teams.

"In that time, the face of the league has changed a lot," he observed. "Greg and I talked about it some at the league meetings. In just the last two years, there have been a lot of changes. We've gotten a lot of negative press, and a lot of new coaches. It's almost like a whole new league. But I still feel pretty comfortable that even though the league is taking shots perception-wise that in a few years all that will go away."

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