Better Blocks = Big Plays

West Virginia's coaching staff was fairly pleased with the execution in the opener, particularly so where ball-control was concerned. But a lack of downfield blocking doomed big-play capabilities.

"We probably had more first downs than we'd like because we did not have big plays," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "That's a good sign of efficiency. If you have over 25 first downs you are probably going to have success because you are controlling the game. But each team still had 10 possessions. We had several long drives where we had the ball 10-plus plays. It is a lot easier for you to control the ball like that."

The coaching staff did express concern that tailback Steve Slaton did not break off a run longer than 16 yards. The longest rush of the 42-10 opening win was Owen Schmitt's 18-yarder to setup his three-yard scoring plunge in the third quarter. That made it 35-7. The culprit was downfield blocking. It appeared that one more block on many plays would have resulted in Slaton hitting the open field. It's usually a footrace from there for the sophomore.

"He runs hungry," Rodriguez said. "The best backs in the country do that. Some say (the backs) run angry. He tries to get everything out of every play."

West Virginia would also like to play more guys, perhaps especially so at tailback, where Slaton, in a blowout win, toted the ball 33 times, one short of his career-high 34 against Pitt last season. Slaton played just half a season last year, and 30-plus carries, or even touches, per game would leave one to believe that the speedy back could wear down at least by the end of the year. The main tailback that could help is Ed Collington, but the freshman is still nursing a sore left ankle suffered in the first weeks of fall camp. The injury is 95 percent, but Collington said it still gets sore and limits his cutting. Schmitt and Jason Colson are the current reserve tailbacks.

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee said that Collington must still show what he can do in practice. He likes the size, speed and athletic ability of the WPIAL leading rusher, but noted that without seeing him at 100 percent, the staff isn't sure of his game-readiness. If pressed, Collington is healthy enough to play.

"We would like to play more guys, but one, they have to know what they are doing and two, they have to show that in practice," Rodriguez said. "It is hard to throw guys in there when we don't trust them. We have more guys that we trust to put in there. There are more at wide receiver, at running back and on the defensive line and linebacker. There are more guys at just about every position that have an opportunity. Ability-wise they can help us."

Rodriguez said that backup-turned-starting offensive lineman Greg Isdaner graded out "ok. It wasn't a great performance from him. Every mistake he made was a correctable mistake. We were pretty pleased with his first outing." Isdaner came in when Damien Crissey was injured in the first quarter. Crissey has a foot sprain and will be out several (3-5) weeks. He is wearing a protective boot.

Crissey's loss means Ryan Stanchek will be the full-time left tackle, while Isdander plays left guard. Stanchek started the Marshall game at left guard so Crissey could man the left tackle slot. That had been a battle since spring that was decided by offensive line coach Rick Trickett just during game week. John Bradshaw, also in the mix, was originally the right guard behind Jeremy Sheffey, but could play other positions should West Virginia incur another injury.

The other injury news is that quarterback Patrick White's rib muscle strain was thought to be 100 percent prior to the opener and was simply aggravated. WVU will limit his passing in practice this week, and his limitations might play into the game strategy against a heavy underdog in Division I-AA Eastern Washington. Rodriguez did say he liked the way backup quarterback Jarrett Brown played in the final drive against Marshall. Brown scored on a nifty run where he eluded two defenders and plowed over another one.

West Virginia's blocked field goal just before the half was the result of poor technique by one player who was removed from the first-team line. The same player jumped offsides on one point after. He was replacing Crissey on the right side of the line. The snap, hold and kick were fine, the coaching staff said.

Note: Eastern Washington will arrive Thursday. The 2,300-mile trip mandated that the Eagles get into Morgantown a day earlier to rest. Rodriguez was asked if that would hurt the team, traveling all the way from the northwest to a mid-Atlantic state.

"Yeah, if they were coming that day," Rodriguez said. "They will have two days to get their legs back under him. They will be full of energy when they play us, I can promise you that. They liked to throw it last year, and I think they'd like to do that again. But their best player is probably their tailback. They spread you and throw it and do a lot of screens and do a lot of things Marshall did like play-actions and boots to take advantage of our aggressiveness.

"A I-A team should beat a I-AA team. But the teams that pulled upsets played in the Big Sky conference (the same league Eastern Washington won the last two seasons). Montana State went into Colorado and won 19-10, and it should have been more from what I hear. New Mexico lost to Portland State. They will get ours guys' attention. We can't just show up and win."

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