Ready to Go

The most talked about season opener of the Rich Rodriguez era is just days away, and the Mountaineers are ready to get started.

"Like everyone else, I'm sure all the coaches and players are anxious to start playing games," Rodriguez said in his weekly time slot of the Big East coaches conference call.

The Mountaineers will host in-state nemesis Marshall at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since West Virginia's 42-31 victory in 1997, a game that featured dozens of future NFL players.

"Our guys have been pretty focused and have worked hard," he said. "We'll have a tremendous atmosphere this weekend with Marshall coming from in-state."

The expectations for the gold and blue are sky high in 2006. Many national pundits cite the combination of talent with an underwhelming schedule as the perfect recipe for a Mountaineer national title. Rodriguez said that his players have remained level-headed since the Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia catapulted them into the national spotlight.

"We knew the expectations were going to be high as soon as the Sugar Bowl was over. We've tried since that game to focus on each day and how we can get better. I think our guys have done that."

For all intents and purposes the Mountaineers are still a very young team. The offense is led by a pair of sophomore playmakers in sophomore quarterback Patrick White, and sophomore running back Steve Slaton. Rodriguez is counting on the same mature attitude that the duo showed last season to be present again in 2006.

"One of the keys to our success last year was that they acted like experienced veterans. They're still very young. I'm relying on that same maturity that they showed last year, and so far they've shown that," he said.

Other notes and quotes from Rodriguez's conference call:

* On first game anxiousness: "I think every team is excited to play your first game. I don't think you know for sure how you'll execute. It will be a very physical, and a very emotional game. They've watched the film and known that Marshall has good players.

"The one thing you worry about is can we go out and execute. You worry about that without having a preseason game or exhibition game. There's a lot of things that come up when you first go live."

* On the recruitment of Patrick White: "(Recruiting players from the deep south) is obviously a challenge, particularly with the SEC schools down there like Auburn and LSU. Rick Trickett did a great job of staying on pat and I think the fact that we recruited him solely as a quarterback helped. We sold him on the system and thankfully he came our way, but then we had to recruit him again after baseball."

* On new rule changes for 2006, which were made in order to speed up the game: "I think that the big impact will be at the end of the half and the end of the game when you're trying to run out the clock. The other impact will be in the number of plays…instead of 11 or 12 opportunities to score you might only have ten. It is what it is and coaches have to deal with it.

* On improving the Mountaineer passing attack: "The key is with Pat White and how comfortable he is in our offense. I think he understands more of what we're doing, and how people are going to try to defend us. We're going to have the opportunity to make big plays in the passing game."

* On whether he's had to keep his team grounded because of the expectations: "I really haven't. We mentioned it early, several times in the spring and when camp started. I thought I'd have to do more of it, but I haven't. It doesn't bother me as long as we stay who we are and keep working how we work."

* On what he and the program learned from the 2004 season when the Mountaineers began the season in the top ten, but limped to an 8-4 finish, including three consecutive losses to end the season: "The mistake we made a few years ago when we had expectations was that we weren't happy after games because we didn't play a certain way or didn't win by a certain number of points."

* On the droves of coaches who came to Morgantown during the offseason to learn about West Virginia's schemes: "We had almost 850 coaches at our high school clinic. Then we probably had another 25 coaching staffs come through. It was great for our coaching staff. We were able to add things to our package as well. It was a great offseason from that standpoint."

* On sophomore defensive lineman Doug Slavonic, who has a high ankle sprain: "The trainers think he's still a couple of weeks away. He's moving around a little bit without the boot. There's no question he's out this week and probably next week (against Eastern Washington) as well."

We'll have plenty more throughout the week including a game preview, and player interviews with a number of Mountaineers.

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