"We have watched a lot of USF tape, and we know we have a great challenge going down there," head coach Rich Rodriguez said on Monday. "This will be our eighth straight game without an open date, so we are going to have to get reenergized for this one. Our guys watched USF dominate Louisville -- they played great in all three phases and ran away with it, and Louisville is an outstanding football team. USF will be jacked up and fired up. They have tremendous amount of team speed, and their coaches do a great job with that program.
While Rodriguez was already in look-forward mode, he did spare a few more comments on WVU's 46-44 comeback win over the Cardinals.
"I'm proud of the guys and the way they battled back," he said. "Things looked bleak for a while, but we got a little momentum in the fourth quarter. That got us energized and kept us going through the overtimes.
"I can't remember being down that much with that little time left and coming back to win. And we were not only down, but we didn't really have any signs of hope."
Rodriguez credited his strength and conditioning staff, along with the summer efforts of his team, for WVU's dominance in the fourth quarter.
"I think conditioning was a factor. We take great pride in that. I felt good in August that the commitment from our had been there all summer. They had a great summer and worked very hard. With our schedule, having eight straight games, we had to have that. We told the guys they had to be in shape when we began camp, because we had a lot of teaching to do with all the youngsters. We didn't have time to spend on conditioning in fall camp. When they came in I could tell they had all worked very hard, because they were all in great shape."
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"Those individual accolades are nice for the kids and the program, but I think this team is more about the team and what it accomplishes," he said. "I think they get excited for each other [when they win an award], but we still have a team without so-called "stars."
Contributing to that has been the ever-increasing maturity of his young players. If there's been a theme to this year's 6-1 start, that has been it.
"The young guys have been mature in all situations – their first road trip, being behind, whatever," Rodriguez explained. "You hope that for them, but you don't know how they will respond. We try to appeal to their competititveness, because they are young guys who haven't proved themselves, and that's something they respond to."
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Jahmile Addae will be making a homecoming of his own this weekend, as his hometown of Valrico, Fla, is just a short hop from Tampa. Addae has provided valuable leadership to the young team, and has been a big part of setting an example for the young Mountaineers to follow.
He has been our free safety for several years, and he's an outstanding football player and a better person," Rodriguez said. "He's a leader, and he knows everything we are trying to do not only on the football field but also in our entire program. He's in the back of the secondary, and he gets everyone lined up. He knows everything we want to do defensively, so he's able to help everyone out. He's not a real vocal guy, but he is when he needs to be. He is invaluable to us.
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West Virginia again controls its own destiny in the race for the Big East title, the same as it was a year ago before dropping its final two conference games to fall into a tie for the championship. Rodriguez plans to use that experience as a teaching tool for this year while urging his team to follow the "one day at a time" coaching mantra.
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As Addae graduates after this year, there will be leadership spots open, and it wouldn't be surprising to see freshman running back Steve Slaton move into one of those roles. Rodriguez is impressed with everything the precocious first-year player has done.
"With all the hype about some of our recruits, Steve was under the radar a little bit. We are excited about him," Rodriguez said with enthusiasm. "After watching him on film, you say, ‘Wow, he has that extra burst,', but he also brings a sense of maturity and focus that's rare in a freshman. His parents have done great job raising him. He's very humble."
Slaton had originally committed to Maryland, but some issues developed there that caused Slaton to reconsider his options. When that happened, West Virginia jumped on the opportunity to get him in for an official visit, and it didn't take long for him to make the Mountaineers his choice.
"We had a great home visit with his family," Rodriguez recounted. You always look for the right fit recruiting, with personality as well as academically and athletically, and he has been all that and more."