Hidden Challenge

With back to back Wednesday night games, everyone around the Mountaineer football program is operating on an adjusted game week schedule. As a result, WVU head Coach Rich Rodriguez' "Tuesday" press conference at the Puskar Center was held today.

Coach Rod began his weekly meeting with the media by talking about the Big East Conference as a whole after two straight nights of national TV exposure.

"I think our league needs to promote itself a little bit," said Coach Rod. "Obviously we've taken some hits from the national media over the last two and a half years. Everything is settled in our league now, which is good."

Talk then centered on this coming Wednesday's game at Cincinnati. The Bearcats were picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East, but have surprised the conference with a 4-4 record out of the gate.

"I've been impressed with them. They're very, very physical, and very athletic. They're playing very hard, and I think their coaches to a great job with them. They'll be playing at home with a lot of confidence."

Rodriguez has been impressed with the play of the Mountaineer defense, and hopes for that trend to continue against the Bearcats.

"Defensively we've got to continue what we've been doing by stopping the run, not giving up big plays, and creating good field position for our offense," said the fifth year head coach. "It's not going to change all year. Usually when our offense has had good field position, we've been OK."

Rodriguez will be returning to Nippert Stadium where he won his first road game as Mountaineer coach during the 2002 season.

"I remember that's the game where the ball hit the goalpost on the last play of the game. They had a good ball club, and it was a big win for us. It kind of gave us some confidence. There's nothing that builds confidence quite like a win. I remember at that point in time that the win (in Cincinnati) gave us confidence because it was a close game on the road."

Rodriguez addressed the injury situation for the Mountaineers, starting in the offensive backfield.

"Steve Slaton (hip pointer) and Owen Schmitt (deep thigh bruise) were both banged up a little bit, but their progress has been pretty good through treatment. They'll be limited today and tomorrow a little bit, but hopefully for Sunday's practice they'll be ready to go. Adam Bednarik is a little bit better. The other guys who were banged up, like Andrae Wright and Ernest Hunter, are still ailing, and a little bit limited but should be ready for the game."

While all those players will likely play, the Blue and Gold will likely be without tight end Josh Bailey for the second straight week after he suffered a sprained ankle against Louisville. Jason Gwaltney will also miss the game because of a sprained knee.

On the defensive side of the ball, Rodriguez has been encouraged by the play of sophomore defensive end Johnny Dingle.

"He's played really, really well the past couple of weeks," Rodriguez said of the Florida transfer. "What he's gotten better at is in the run game. We've been really pleased with his play the past couple of weeks."

Offensively, the head coach likes what he's seen week in and week out from fullback Owen Schmitt.

"There's no question that Owen has given us a dimension we haven't had with a fullback who has tailback skills. When he's in the two back sets, he's really playing a tailback position. Both (tailbacks in the two back set) could turn into a fullback on those plays depending on which direction we run. Owen has tremendous skills as far as catching the ball, and he's faster than you'd think too. In our offense, or any offense, if you have a 250-pound guy that power cleans over 400 pounds, but also has tailback skills, you can have some big plays."

When looking at the Bearcats on film, Rodriguez has been impressed with their running backs.

"They've got three outstanding backs," he said. "They're all big and physical. The Bearcats will get (the WVU defense's) attention very quickly when we look at the film today and this weekend."


One difference in playing the Bearcats is the traveling arrangements. Instead of chartering a flight like they normally do, the Mountaineers will travel to the Buckeye State by bus on Tuesday afternoon, and also return by bus following the game.

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