Rod Report - Maryland

West Virginia will face the prototypical Maryland team on Thursday, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez. That means big offensive linemen, bigger tight ends and a penchant for the dreaded crossing patterns.

Maryland's offensive line will be the biggest the Mountaineers face in the regular season. The entire team, in fact, is among the biggest in college football. One offensive lineman, guard Jared Gaither, is 6-9 and 350 pounds. He is the brother of former WVU basketball player Jamar Gaither. The tight ends are 6-6 and 6-8, but it was asked at the Tuesday press conference if they would be as much of a factor with head coach Ralph Friedgen now calling the plays out of the pro-set attack.

"They still throw to them," Rodriguez said. "They have a couple big targets. We have to be prepared for that. You go down and cover them and have a 5-11 DB and he is 6-8, he will go up and muscle it away. We also have to be aware of crossing patterns and deeper things to get ball to the tight end. They will be an impressive team getting off the bus. They will be eating peanuts off our guys' heads out there defensively."

That's an area in which West Virginia has struggled in the past. The 3-3-5 odd stack set can be beaten via the tight end and crossing patterns, making the match-up with Maryland difficult for the defense. All units have something they give up, and WVU's is to allow short passes while stopping big plays, forcing foes to complete six to seven passes in a row to score. It remains to be seen if Maryland can do that.

A concern for both coaches is not trying to do too much with their teams in a short week. Both programs need to win this game very badly, and the tendency to over-coach and over-program players must be avoided. Rodriguez's plan going in is to allow his players to execute what they can and not call too many additional sets or plays and not try to insert too many additional alignments. He wants great speed getting to the ball, and players who are not slowed by thinking too much.

"Certainly with a quick turnaround from a coaching standpoint, you don't really have five days and you're not going to install anything new the day before the game," Rodriguez said. "So everything you put in you have to have in by today and hope your guys execute. I can draw up a play that looks great on paper, but if your players can't execute it or are not efficient in doing it, it is going to cost you. They key is to keep ahold of the ball and play smart, and having a few things they have not seen. But you don't know when they are going to do it or when we are going to do (the new wrinkles). That is part of the fun."

Another part is the night atmosphere at Mountaineer Field. The game is sold out, and a crowd of 58,000-plus is expected for the 7:30 kickoff, to be nationally-televised on ESPN. This could be an extremely fun and entertaining game to watch for Mountaineer fans, who love physical football against a very good foe. They will get heavy doses of both this week in arguably the biggest non-conference game in the regular season in Rodriguez's six years at WVU.

"It's a Thursday night on ESPN with a sold-out crowd, so hopefully they'll be jacked up," Rodriguez said of his players and the fans. "What gets the fans jacked up? That's a lot of time between when you wake up and when the game starts. There is a lot of tailgating. That explains that. But the atmosphere is electric here. You get a feel for a certain electricity. The last crowd was a great one for a I-AA Eastern Washington team. But there was a difference between that and the opener, for obvious reasons. I think our fans know what a big game this is.

"Without question this is one of the most physical games we play every year. Their size and strength, their weight program; they are physical and tough. We like to think our guys play physical, too. There will be a lot of our guys in the training room Friday. That is why we haven't hit much this week. We know we have a physical game in a short week."

A mild surprise revealed by Rodriguez was that Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach is more mobile than most fans – and perhaps media – think. The Terps run naked bootlegs, rollouts and options and triple-options for the senior, who isn't just a pocket passer. UM likes to use play action on first and second down.

Defensively, there is concern that Maryland will bring additional pressure from many areas. The Terps, under first-year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh – who came over from Kansas State after coaching the UM linebackers in 1997 – often change their fronts from their traditional 4-man (even) front to that of a five or even three man look that is similar to West Virginia. They'll also shuffle linebackers, moving them to create confusion before the snap and bringing pressure from the LBs and the corners.

"They are all athletic guys who can run," Rodriguez said. "You can have an idea, but I won't know until the first couple of series if their philosophy has changed or not. I have done this so long that we have seen just about every creative defense you can see. We will see some different formations from Maryland than we have seen."

The injury front remains the same for West Virginia. Defensive lineman Doug Slavonic is almost certainly not going to play because of an ankle injury. Safety Ridwan Malik is out with a hip strain. Tight end Mike Villigrana will return after a bad back kept him out last week. Offensive linemen Damien Crissey remains out. Quarterback Nate Sowers is questionable with a hamstring. He would have played another series late against EWU, but the coaching staff chose to remove him after the hamstring. He originally had a hip strain, but that has largely dissipated.

Quarterback Patrick White and tailback Steve Slaton have ‘ouchy' ribs and a left ankle, respectively, but will play. Reserve tailback Ed Collington is still nursing an ankle sprain and will likely not play. Owen Schmitt and Jason Colson are the backup tailbacks just ahead of Eddie Davis.

Rodriguez –

On watching Louisville and Miami on Saturday – "It will probably be a half a day work for the coaches, then we'll go home and relax with the wife and kids an watch football. I will kick back and relax if we win. If not, I will be mad for a week and a half. That's one thing about a midweek game. If you win, it's a great Saturday. If you lose, you are miserable. You try to get it out of your mind, but when you lose you constantly replay it over and over. It doesn't make a lot of sense to do that, but that's human nature.

"If the season was over you could sit back. But if it's someone you have not played yet, you sore of take a little note pad and pen and ‘Ohhh, what do they do here?' I have said that college football is so much more exciting than the NFL. You see all those different styles. That's the advantage we have over the pro game."

On the Big East going 11-2 out of conference this year: "The thing I am anxious to see is if the Big East loses a game, do they jump all over the league? Some teams, like the ACC or something – I don't see people jumping on Illinois (which lost 33-0 to Rutgers). If that score had been reversed people would be jumping on the Big East. Just because one team has a bad game does not mean the league is bad. I didn't hear grumbling about other conferences when Illinois gets beat like that or Akron beats N.C. State (20-17). The Big East is better than people think it is."

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