"It was a little strange," admitted West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez during his weekly chat with the media on Friday afternoon. "I didn't think we played as well defensively as we have played most of the season. I didn't think we got off blocks well and we didn't break on the ball. I don't know if the conditions had something to do with that with both teams, but we didn't play as well defensively as we are capable. We just got a few breaks and some turnovers and we put together some long drives."
West Virginia, in fact, benefited from five Panther turnovers — usually a clear indication as to who wins the game. But in this game of oddities, Rodriguez explained that even that number did not tell the story.
"We capitalized on (Pitt's mistakes), but we also had some really long drives," explained the fifth-year coach. "Not all of our scores came as a result of turnovers. We had an 82-yard drive, a 74-yard drive, a 73-yard drive and an 85-yard drive. Those are four really long drives, and I think they helped us maintain control of the game."
The difference was that Pitt put up most of its yardage on a couple of big plays and could never really put together any long drives. Rodriguez — as any coach would be — was pleased with that fact, but Pitt's long strikes were something he does not want to see again anytime soon.
"That was really the first time this year that we have given up those kind of big plays," said the perplexed coach. "After watching the film this morning, I thought those were the result of individual technique more than anything else."
One of the major worries in playing in a spirited rivalry, especially one where the temperatures are hovering in single-digits, is injuries. According to Rodriguez, though, West Virginia made it out of the Backyard Brawl in good shape. Jason Colson did suffer a minor knee sprain and is currently day-to-day, but other than that WVU should be just fine.
"We had a few minor bumps and bruises," explained Rodriguez, "but other than that Jason was the only one who actually had to leave the game."
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College coaches usually try to keep their wishes about who wins a particular game out of the public light, but Rodriguez made no secret of who he will be rooting for Saturday afternoon when Connecticut and South Florida meet up.
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"We would love to see UConn win," admitted the Grant Town native. "That way we wouldn't have it all riding on one game. But South Florida is awfully talented. I would be surprised if they don't win the ball game."
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Rodriguez was also questioned on the Big East's tiebreaker system. Many feel that breaking a tie for the championship based on head-to-head play is a bad move for a conference trying to rebuild. Critics of the plan say that the Big East could end up sending an unranked team to a BCS bowl and further the debate about whether or not it belongs at the table, but Rodriguez is sticking by the system that he and the other coaches voted on.
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"We were all in agreement with that," explained the Big East Coach of the Year candidate. "That way it is settled on the field, and I think that is fair.
"I think it is worse for the league if it doesn't do what is right. Then you send a message that you are grasping. The polls are just polls. Sometimes teams start off ranked very high at the beginning of the year and they get their ranking based on hype not on performance. I think there is a lot of discussion about this, and in my opinion there should not be any polls until mid-season. I think all the teams that are ranked at the beginning of the season have to play their way out and the others have to play their way in. A lot of that is just based on hype. Certainly nobody had us picked in the top 25 this year."
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The author of WVU's "Spot the Ball" offense was also questioned about his team's reliance on the run. West Virginia nearly amassed 500 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh, but it threw for only 41.
Critics have labeled this run-happy style as a possible pitfall down the road, but Rodriguez does not agree with that assessment.
"I think one-dimensional is unfair," he explained. "We have made throws when we have had to make throws. I think there is too much made out of it. I think the key is whether or not you are executing.
"Our (offense) is a little different deal. I think the biggest difference between us and some wishbone teams is that half of our practice is devoted to the passing game. Believe it or not, we are willing to throw it, and I think we are able to if we have to. We have that there, but we are better at running. If we can keep executing the run, then that is what we are going to do. At some point we are going to have to throw it and we know that."
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Rodriguez is now 3-2 in his coaching career against Pitt, and with the youth of the Mountaineers it would not be hard to imagine the West Virginia coach moving to 6-2 over the next three years. Coach Rod, though, is not about to look that far ahead.
"Every year is different," he said, quickly trying to get that thought out of reporters' heads. "People want to use previous years to project what is going to happen, and I guess that is the only thing you can do. But every year is so different at this level. The league is as young as it has ever been, and it is going to be exciting in the next couple of years."