Rod Report - Marshall

West Virginia is preparing not just for the Thundering Herd, but for a thundering storm that could strike the mid-Atlantic just before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff for the Sept. 2 season-opener against Marshall.

Tropical Storm Ernesto is slated to hit Florida, then ride slightly northwestern up the eastern seaboard, pushing a wave of moisture into Morgantown between 8 a.m. and noon Saturday. It could be among the wettest games WVU has played in, and head coach Rich Rodriguez said his team is prepping for it.

The Mountaineers worked on wet ball drills and quarterback throwing Monday, and Rodriguez said they would do it again today. West Virginia played in two wet games last year, the reslated contest at South Florida and a rainy encounter at Rutgers. So it remains to be seen if quarterback Patrick White can throw a wet ball as well as a he does a dry one. The weather could also aid Marshall in that, if WVI can't effectively throw, it could load the box even more on defense, knowing that the Mountaineers will run. That obviously also works the other way as well.

"I hope it's not like that, both for the fans and the teams," Rodriguez said. "That changes the game and what you can do. We haven't practiced in the rain because we just haven't had that much in August. It has been very dry. You have to prepare for such things, and more than any other game, you are concerned with what will happen in the first one. It is the most unpredictable."

WVU has multiple shoes and soles it can mix and match for wet surfaces. Some players, Rodriguez said, prefer a solid, molded sole while others like a cleated feel. If it is very wet, some players will wear metal cleats, especially on grass. Equipment manager Dan Nehlen will have all soles and shoes available Saturday, and the team will have chances to see what fits their play and style best so it can make decisions this week or changes in warm-ups or shortly thereafter.

One other factor to watch is White's ability to read coverage. Rodriguez said the second-year signalcaller is much better at recognizing what defenses are doing. At times last year, he was worried more about what WVU was doing and getting everybody lined up correctly than watching defensive changes and making adjustments.

"That is part of his developing as a quarterback," Rodriguez said. "That is something he really worked on in the offseason. What is it that (Texas head coach) Mack Brown used to say about Vince Young? When he dropped back to pass, (Brown) hoped everyone was covered, because then (Young) would have to take off and run. It's not a bad thing if someone is playing way back on coverage and covering all the receivers. Pat can just take off."

Marshall is known to use press coverage, and play man-to-man on the outside with free safety help over the top. They will force the receivers to make plays on their own and beat the defender across from them rather than allow the wideouts to float in and out of zones. That is something West Virginia must address, as well as MU's style of tackling.

The coaching staff noticed through film study that some Herd players have a tendency to cut tackle, diving at the legs or getting very low to take down ball carriers. Running backs have been instructed to be aware of that and react accordingly. That area of the game is the one that teams used to be able to practice more, but now cannot due to fewer full contact practice sessions. Rodriguez said tackling Marshall tailback Ahmad Bradshaw will be a major challenge due to his shiftiness and the lack of real tackling teams do in drills. Other than the live sessions, teams do not constantly hit like they used to do in two-a-days.

"He will make a lot of players miss and he always gets positive yards," Rodriguez said of Bradshaw. "And their quarterback runs well. They run a lot of option and he can take off. He is in his third year now and is more confident and accurate. They are different than a lot of other teams we play in that they are very balanced. They will throw it in the first quarter, they will throw it in the fourth quarter, and do it ahead or behind. They will blitz and challenge you in man coverage."

Rodriguez also said that he has been pleasantly surprised by the lack of hype surrounding the game. He thought there would be more, especially with the contest being the opener, and noted that, though he understands fans look at a win-loss record as the most important, he just wants his team to play hard and stay focused and give its best effort. If it loses when that happens, the sixth-year head coach said he could not fault the player at all. For him, it was about the process and how West Virginia goes about winning any game rather than the final result.

"I just want a great focus and great effort," he said. "These are young guys and they are going to make mistakes. We will stub our toe at times. We aren't so talented that we can just show up and beat somebody. We have to play hard and with a focus, and I think our guys understand that. We have some talent, but not so much that we can just beat someone by being there. I'm really pleased with how our guys have responded to everything. We have a conscientious group, and I like how they have practiced and prepared and how they have handled things.

"You just hope you can go out there and avoid beating yourself with mental mistakes or turnovers and things. What I would like to happen is for the defense not to give up any points and for the offense to execute and do well. But (Marshall head coach) Mark (Snyder) will tell you the same thing down in Huntington. I think that's what every coach wants. But you worry about this one game (season-opener) more than any other just because of its unpredictability."

RIFLE REPORTS

  • The offensive line remains unsettled. It looks like it could shift back to what it was coming out of the spring with Dan Mozes at center, Jeremy Sheffey at right guard, Jake Figner at right tackle, Ryan Stanchek at left guard and Damien Crissey at left tackle. It seems that Crissey or Greg Isdaner will be the odd-man out depending upon where the staff decides to play Stanchek.

    "Damien Crissey has really battled back," Rodriguez said. "It is still unsettled there, and it will likely come down to game time. I am with Rick (Trickett, WVU's offensive line coach) in not playing different players or moving guys in and out there. It is not like at reciver, where all the guys are all over. These are a tight unit there, and they have to work together more than any other position. I want them all to know other positions, but I don't like moving individual players in there as well."

  • Punter Scott Kozlowski is booming the ball, and has earned the nod there. Place kicker Pat McAfee is fully recovered and is kicking well, still maintaining very good distance and accuracy. "Pat is very conscientious about his craft and he takes it very, very seriously," Rodriguez said.

    The NCAA has mandated a lower kicking tee this season, meaning McAfee and other kickers will have a more difficult time booming balls into the end zone. Look for more returns. The other rule change, starting the game clock when the play clock begins on a change of possession, is expected to lessen game times to approximately three hours and decrease snap counts by 12-18 per game.

    "Now, instead of five or six possessions in the second half, you may only get three or four," Rodriguez said. "You have to be aware of that. And now you can kill more time off the game clock, so you have to add that to all these little charts they make telling you how much time you can kill (with a new set of downs at the end of the game)."


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