Today's drills, in shells only, focused on a list of unique game situations and how to handle them. Rodriguez has a list of potential game problems, like what to do if a quarterback gets hurt or a punter fails to be on the field, for whatever reason, with the rest of the punt unit. The 50-plus item list originated with New England head coach Bill Belichick. WVU got halfway through it today, and will finish Friday. The Mountaineers also focused on the two-minute drill and special teams.
"We are getting closer," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if anybody is ready to play a game right now. We're not, but hopefully we will have a good day tomorrow, then we have a normal game week."
The Marshall game preparation has started, and the full game plan itself will be finished by Tuesday, usually the first day for on-field teaching of what the team will do this weekend. The major injury questions about defensive lineman Doug Slavonic and safety Ridwan Malik were answered, as both will not play in the opener. Slavonic has an ankle sprain and Malik a hip sprain. Linebacker Bobby Hathaway did practice after recovering from a foot infection. He and Reed Williams are competing for the strongside linebacker spot.
If Hathaway cannot go, West Virginia can slide middle ‘backer Jay Henry to the strongside and put Marc Magro in the his place. Kevin McLee is the weakside starter. Receiver Dorrell Jollah has worked back and could be cleared for full contact as early as Monday. The Greensboro, N.C. native, who suffered a foot stress fracture, is questionable for the opener. Zac Cooper's MRI was negative, and he will likely return Monday.
"He has done a bit more every day, but with a stress fracture, if you bring them back too fast it can get even worse," Rodriguez said. "Our training staff has been very careful with him and not making him do too much. But until you get into individual drills and seven-on-seven and 11-on-11, you can't tell if a guy can help you or not."
Ryan Stancheck remains at left tackle, but has been playing left tackle and guard. Greg Isdaner and John Bradshaw are battling for the left guard position, with Rodriguez calling it 50-50. Damien Crissey is also in the mix at left tackle, meaning the fall camp shuffling could result in the line being the exact same as when it came out of spring drills. Rodriguez said he thought West Virginia had identified its top eight or nine offensive linemen.
West Virginia would like to find additional defensive linemen next week. Rodriguez said he did not think WVU had any more than three to four that could play. That might be coach-speak, but he did reiterate an earlier response about not having near the seven or eight that the staff anticipated.
"I don't know if we have three that I am comfortable with," Rodriguez said. "I am not overly excited about the way we have been playing up front and neither is (line coach) Bill Kirelawich or (defensive coordinator) Jeff Casteel. They got the talent, but to say we are real deep on the line and can roll seven or eight deep, not right now."
Rodriguez said he feels about the same now as he did this time last year in regards to his team and its progression.
"We obviously have a few more knows," Rodriguez said, "But I have the same amount of concerns at certain positions. But I like the level of conditioning and focus of our team. I sit there and say that, and people ask how I felt before the last bowl game, and it was the same as I have felt before other bowl games. We got beat really bad a couple times and won the last one. I don't know that how I feel makes any difference."
On if Marshall showed any interest in him coming out of North Marion High: "A little bit more in basketball than in football, believe it or not. I had a lot of friends who went there. I wanted to play in the biggest arena possible, and I thought football was the avenue to do that. Plus, because I walked on, it came down to what I could afford. With the financial aid and the federal aid I was able to come here for a year. It worked out after a year, and I could get a scholarship. That was fortunate because my dad was a laid-off coal miner at the time. And I had good grades, believe it or not, at North Marion High School."
On remembering the Sugar Bowl win: "I don't think it's bad to remember certain things, like the parts about executing and preparation. But I reminded them yesterday and again today that everybody is starting new. Nobody is giving us a first down. We have had to move on from that. If the Sugar Bowl has helped raise expectations, then let's embrace that s long as it doesn't change our focus or preparation. I think our guys have been pretty good. I don't see any guys mentally floating. I don't think our coaches would allow it.
"And people have asked me, ‘What do you think about the schedule, is it rated high enough?'. I could care less what everybody thinks about the rating. What we are going to do is try to win the first game and try to win the next one and so on. We treat it like a 12-round playoff system, and we have the first round coming up next weekend. We have always done that and I think our players have been able to do that, too, just focus on the first round and then move on."
On using one word to describe the Mountaineer running game: "I like to think those guys play with a hard edge up front and the way they run the ball and block. It is a different system, but I think schemes are overrated. The guys that take the coaching well…my coaches do a great job fundamentally and we have been blessed with great backs. They run hard and the receivers are unselfish and we have guys that can go. I don't know if intimidation is as much of a factor as tempo. Maybe relentless is a better word. When we are running really, really well, our tempo and pace make our guys relentless and they want to keep running. That is the mentality that those guys have, the Dan Mozeses and that. They created that themselves."
On the advantage of playing Marshall in the first game as opposed to right in the middle of the conference season, like the basketball series: "I'd rather play them later, like the fifth game. I think we finally get rolling then. That's just my philosophy. We have had openers with Wisconsin and played ok, then we had openers like last season and played, well, not awful, but we turned the ball over five times. I think any coach will say that he likes the fifth games better, when his team has had some time. You are more nervous about the first game than anything else because of the crazy things that happen. So who would he want to play in those first four games, if not a team like Marshall?> "Um, Glenville. Hey, let's keep the money in-state, right?"
On if Marshall is the most unique game he has coached at WVU: "I don't know about that. We have had some interesting games on Thursday nights and Wednesday nights and down in the Orange Bowl against Miami. We have had some high-profile games. I know there will be a great crowd and a lot of in-state interest in this one."
Note: The Friends of Coal Bowl trophy (called the Governor's Trophy) made its final stop in Morgantown after visiting Marshall in Huntington. The 60-pound trophy was made entirely in-state except for a small piece of granite. Fenton Art Glass (Williamstown) made the glass that was shaped around a football made of coal, which was mined by Kingston Mining in Scarboro, W.Va. GrafTech of Clarksburg made the pedestal base and SGS Minerals in Charleston handled the pulverizing of coal. Amstead artist Robert Dickenson of Mountaineer Coal Creations shaped the liquefied coal into the football.