Washed Away

Rutgers sought to use West Virginia to showcase newfound Big East status. Instead, Steve Slaton ran to daylight, utilizing the Knights to punctuate his stranglehold on the WVU starting tailback slot.

The true freshman, for weeks mired in the muck of a four-headed backfield race, became the accompanying quarter horse to thoroughbred Jason Gwaltney.

In his first start, Slaton rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown to lead WVU to a workmanlike 27-14 win at Rutgers on Saturday, its 11th straight win in the series.

It was the ninth consecutive season a WVU running back has rushed for at least 100 yards against Rutgers.

Slaton continued to showcase his superior acceleration and vision in breaking off key runs off 33, 29, 21 and 11 yards. But Slaton's most impressive asset was his footwork. He continually gained extra yards in the middle or along the sideline when it appeared he was hemmed in.

That was in stark contrast to last week, when Slaton used his speed to turn the corner or bust through, only to have to revert back to his strength to break tackles and drag Hokie defenders for additional yardage.

Slaton did not manage another 44-yard effort, like his speed/strength burst last week. But his poise and self-assurance inspired the confidence of his teammates – and his coaches.

"It was great knowing my family and friends were here, and my coaches," said Slaton, a native of Levittown, Pa. "I took this real seriously. We all have something to offer, and right now I feel I am offering the most."

Slaton and Gwaltney, who ran for 57 yards, benefited from huge gaps created by the offensive line. Both ripped off large runs and went untouched into the Rutgers secondary half a dozen times.

Rutgers' Brian Leonard, conversely, was held to 76 yards on 23 carries (3.3 yards peer carry) with a long run of eight yards. He scored twice, but was minimized as West Virginia (5-1, 2-0 Big East) forced the Scarlet Knights to beat them throwing.

That proved even more important when rain soaked the area before the game and remained steady throughout.

"The guys handled the conditions really well," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We didn't have any turnovers in the game, and that was the difference."

Rutgers' Ryan Hart never looked comfortable in the pocket, and was intercepted by Dee McCann on the final Knight drive to end the game. He finished nine of 16 for 105 yards and was benched several times in favor of reserve Mike Teel.

McCann also intercepted Teel on a tipped pass on Rutgers' (4-1, 1-1 Big East) second-to-last drive.

"It was definitely fun to play in this," McCann said. "This was football weather, and I am sure a lot of us enjoyed playing in these conditions."

Hart and Teel did not have the run support that West Virginia supplied starter Adam Bednarik. The sophomore quarterback played the entire first half and finished nine of 10 for 78 yards and a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Myles that put WVU ahead 21-0. Bednarik also rushed seven times for 26 yards.

"Our guys never panicked," Rodriguez said. "That's the thing about young kids: they don't worry about what will happen down the road. They only worry about now, and that was big for us today."

Reserve freshman Pat White failed on his only pass attempt and was used mainly to hand the ball off as WVU burned clock late.

West Virginia jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Thandi Smith blocked Joe Radigan's punt from the 28-yard line, then picked up the rolling ball on the one-yard-line and dove into the end zone for a 6-0 lead. Pat McAfee, who had earlier missed a 34-yard field goal, hit the point after.

It was West Virginia's first block of any type this season, and Smith's third block of his career.

Smith also caused WVU's last block, against Syracuse last season. The senior defensive back also blocked a kick against the Orange in 2003.

The last block for a score was against Central Florida in 2003. Jerry White blocked the kick and Joe Hunter recovered it for a touchdown. The last block and recovery by the same player for a score was by Gary Thompkins against Pitt in 1998.

"I saw the ball come off, and my first instinct was to jump on it," Smith said. "It gave us a little boost and motivation, and the next thing you know we're up 21."

Neither team had moved the ball before Smith's block, and the game was becoming a stagnant battle of field position that West Virginia was slowly winning. The Mountaineers had bottled Leonard to that point, and were beginning to establish themselves on the ground with a mix of Slaton and Owen Schmitt (two carries for 16 yards, three catches for 13 yards).

WVU held Rutgers to its third three and out in its first five series, getting the ball back on Boo McLee's recovery of Ray Rice's fumble with 2:35 left in the first quarter. It was Rutgers' first fumble of the year and just its third turnover.

Slaton immediately ripped off a 21-yard run using his speed and agility. Bednarik then kept on a designed pass play to gain 19 to Rutgers' 20-yard line.

Gwaltney knifed his way off the left side for seven yards inside the red zone before Slaton iced the drive with gains of one and 11 yards. The drive, just six plays and 28 yards, took 51 seconds and gave West Virginia a 14-0 lead.

The Mountaineers got another turnover on the next RU drive when Mike Lorello intercepted Teel. The pick came on a fourth and 17 from the Scarlet Knights' 35-yard line and served as a punt.

West Virginia quickly went 93 yards in 11 plays for a 21-0 lead. Slaton rushed for 19 yards on the first snap, and would also carry for 29 yards during the march. Schmitt also had a gain of 14, and Bednarik continued to make smart choices and be selective in his passing.

The sophomore found a streaking Brandon Myles for the score on a second and long following Ryan Stancheck's second holding call of the day. That flag, WVU's third, erased Bednarik's 14-yard touchdown run. The quarterback went seven of eight in the first half, for 74 yards and one touchdown.

"It was an important win, and I really felt our offense, defense and special teams did well," Lorello said. "It was a big game in the Big East."

Rutgers began to move the ball on its final possession of the first half. Eyeing WVU's difficulty in covering middle pas routes and slants, Rutgers began mixing those with solid Leonard running.

Teel threw for 40 yards and Leonard added 46 on the ground in the 80-yard drive (there was a holding call during the possession). Leonard scored on a third and goal from the one with 1:06 left in the half to make the score 21-7 at the break.

The final 30 minutes saw West Virginia continue to rely on the run, while Rutgers could never establish itself in any fashion.

McAfee hit a 45-yard field goal to cap WVU's first second half possession and added a 35-yard field goal for the final tally.

Rutgers answered McAfee's first kick with its best effort of the game. The Knights went a short 66 yards in 15 plays in 6:39. Hart converated a key third and medium with a dive at the end of a solid scramble. That setup Rutgers inside the red zone and it scored on Leonard's one-yard plunge on fourth and goal with 4:00 left in the third quarter.

NOTES:

Boo McLee's fumble recovery in the first quarter was his first of the season and the third of his career. He led WVU in tackles with eight.

Salton's 11-yard touchdown run was the first of his career. He became the fifth different WVU running back to score a touchdown this season.

Gwaltney has a knee injury and is expected to be out for two weeks. Ernest Hunter has a high ankle sprain and could be out multiple games.

The attendance was 21,717.

Myles touchdown reception capped a 93-yard drive, WVU's third 90-plus yard drive of the season.

McAfee's 45-yard field goal was the longest of the freshman's career.

Ron Girault and Courtney Greene each led Rutgers with 10 tackles.

Clark Harris had four catches for 53 yards. Slaton also led WVU in receiving with three catches for 35 yards.

Phil Brady punted four times for a 45.8 yard average. He pinned three inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 51.

WVU had 314 yards of offense; Rutgers, 295. The Knights had the ball six minutes longer than West Virginia.

The Mountaineers were five of 12 on third down.

West Virginia attempted 11 passes. It has now tried just 101 total pass plays on the season.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories