Rod Report - EWU

West Virginia's search for added depth at tailback and corner will highlight practice this week, as the position battles key preparation for Eastern Washington.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez said West Virginia is working on two teams this week: Eastern Washington and themselves. Among the improvements are increased defensive aggression and a search for depth. Tailback Steve Slaton carried 33 times last week, one shy of his career high, so WVU is looking for Ed Collington and Eddie Davis to give it another player behind Jason Colson. Reserve Jet Best has to improve and will probably be redshirted.

Fullback Owen Schmitt can also take snaps at tailback, but West Virginia needs another explosive stylist. The freshmen have that makeup. Collington led the WPIAL in rushing his senior season and Davis is a 6-1, 170-pounder who has shown flashes but has been moved between slot receiver and tailback. He will likely stay at tailback now. Collington also has an ankle injury that is about 95 percent healed. He still has trouble cutting at full speed.

On defense, Rodriguez said the Mountaineers did not blitz as much as they would have liked, and do plan on being more aggressive this week. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is also looking for Kent Richardson or true freshmen Guesly Dervil and Boogie Allen to elevate themselves to the fourth cornerback. Vaughn Rivers is the lone solid reserve behind starters Larry Williams and Antonio Lewis.

"I thought we played hard last week," Rodriguez said. "We could be more aggressive defensively at times, and we'll try to ratchet that up a bit. But it would be nice if Eastern Washington helped us like they helped Oregon State last week and turn it over."

The Division I-AA Eagles had four turnovers in as many possessions to start the game. EWU gave Oregon State the ball three times inside of its own 20, and so were out of the eventual 56-17 loss so early that WVU actually could not get a feel for their game approach and style because they were forced to pass so much. The coaching staff did notice that the team is using a different coverage setup than it did last season. Whether the change was just for Oregon State or is permanent because of having new cornerbacks with varying talents is unknown, so the staff will prepare the Mountaineers for both, then see what is used the first few series'.

Several scribes tried to bait the sixth-year head coach into saying that he would, indeed, limit the playing time of key Mountaineers because the game was against just a Division I-AA team. He was repeatedly asked that question, and the coach finally said what everybody should have known all along.

"We are going to try to do everything we can to win the game," Rodriguez said. "They all count as one. I think I have said that before. Until they start counting certain games as three, our approach will stay the same. We won't change our approach. It's not like we are playing with 24-year old men against 16-year old kids. I have been on the other end of that (when coaching at Glenville). Wofford battled us around. I think our guys understand that. Any coach should tell you a I-A team should beat a I-AA team. They should. But it doesn't always happen. Two of the three Division I-AA teams that pulled upsets were from the Big Sky Conference (the league EWU has won the last two seasons). You have to play to win the game."

One concern is wideout Brandon Myles. The receiver suffered a concussion, but is expected to play. It seemed like WVU has incurred more than its share of the head injuries this spring. Schmitt, Jeremy Sheffey and Keilen Dykes, among others, have all missed time because of concussions this fall.

"We looked back at it and it seemed like we had am inordinate amount in camp," Rodriguez said. "But it was not any more than we have had in camp. I thought the same thing. We do a couple things. We checked the air in the helmets, because if they lose air that could be a problem. But it was fine. And we make sure they wear their mouthpiece. They were. So I don't know what is causing it. It must just be some big collisions."

Notes: *West Virginia will be minus safety Ridwan Malik (hip strain) defensive lineman Doug Slavonic (ankle), Damien Crissey (foot sprain, likely out six to seven weeks). Tight end Mike Villigrana is doubtful with bad back, and Myles missed practice time because of a concussion.

*Quarterback Patrick White will be limited this week as he recovers from a strained rib muscle. It can be recurrent, and so White will not throw much today or Wednesday. He hopes to be at 100 percent for this weekend. "I hope it's not a lingering thing. I don't know how you get that healed other than rest," Rodriguez said. "He is such an explosive guy that he twists here or there and aggravates it."

*The coaches have decided to begin working true freshman Derek Hayes in at right tackle to add depth there. He will play only in an emergency. The move was in answer to Crissey's foot sprain. WVU would like to redshirt all the linemen, but that might not be possible. It has played five true freshmen thus far: Dervil, Allen, linebacker J.T. Thomas, running back Max Anderson and receiver Wes Lyons. Lyons will see more playing time. He has had a hand fracture that limited him in drills. His splint is expected to come off this week. "We have seen improvement from him all along," Rodriguez said. "We want to play him more."

*The coaching staff gives a Black Shirt Award to the most outstanding special teams unit. The kickoff coverage team won the award for the opener, so they will wear black jerseys all week in practice. The coach who oversees that aspect of special teams also gets a shirt. There was no word on whether players could not wear it if they were outside in 90-degree heat.

*Rodriguez, on his then-NAIA Glenville teams playing up to Division I-AA foes like Indiana State and Samford and for a paycheck: "I told them this is for the money. The guys, they were excited. They thought they would get another T-shirt or a hat or something. I told them we are doing this to pay the bills, not for notoriety or anything. And we took a Greyhound bus that had those nice TVs on there. We'd stay at a nice hotel because it was long trip and had a nice meal at one of those All-You-Can-Eat deals, at Golden Corrals and Ryan's Steakhouse. They loved getting in there.

"From a competitive standpoint those guys loved to compete with schools at a higher level that had more money and scholarships. The all felt they had something to prove. I played at Indiana State while I was at Glenville. It was 60-something to 49. Their coach was really made. I think (quarterback) Jed Drenning threw it 68 times. That game lasted about 4.5 hours. They won, but they were not very happy about it. I played Samford when (former NFL and current Georgia Tech head coach) Chan Gailey was coach and lost in the last minute. Our guys were real disappointed with that one. It was a long ride back from Birmingham.

"Most of the time, those upsets at that level are because the other team does not play well or turns the ball over. Montana State (which upset Colorado last weekend) had the ball inside the five twice and just got three points out of it, so 19-10 wasn't a true indication of how they dominated that game. I know the Eastern Washington coach, Paul Wulff, said it was the biggest game they have ever played."

*Rodriguez, on again rehashing how the game came about: "Buffalo dropped us in February. Most schedules are made five to six years in advance, at a minimum. You can imagine a team dropping you five months before. Who are you going to find? We need a home game. We have to have six at a minimum or some bills don't get paid. You can call up Notre Dame and see if they will come on down. That's not going to happen. You have to find someone who will come on down to Morgantown. The only way to rectify (teams buying out contracts) is when you make the contract so expensive that they can't afford to get out. But the MAC is going through some changes, so we'll see what happens with that mess."

The anticipated crowd this weekend should be the most in front of which Eastern Washington has ever played (the crowd at Oregon State was just 38,000). The Eagles are 7-13 all-time against Division I-A schools, and the only time they played a ranked foe they lost 84-21 to Houston, which finished the year ranked 10th. It will be EWU's third trip east of the Mississippi River to play. One was against Connecticut in 2001, a 35-17 Eagles' win.


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