Block = Party

West Virginia has more skill, speed and talent than East Carolina. That didn't matter much last season, when WVU squeaked out a 20-15 home win that wasn't decided until the final snap. It might not mater again, if the Mountaineers can't execute among the simplest of offensive tasks, yet one that can be easily shirked via lack of desire.

West Virginia was held to 127 yards rushing last season on 46 carries against East Carolina largely, according to offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, because of an apathetic approach and lack of focus. But one item that is being ignored this week is how poorly West Virginia's wideouts handled their downfield blocking assignments in the five-point win last season, and how well they did so in the 45-24 romp over Maryland in which the Mountaineers led 28-0 after the first quarter and 38-10 at the half.

Quite simply, if No. 4 WVU (3-0) seals off the Pirate defensive backs and the safety -- expected to press the line of scrimmage as Maryland's did -- tailback Steve Slaton is primed for another huge day. The match-ups in the trenches favor the Mountaineers when they have the ball, and there are few with better field vision than Slaton, who seems to see plays just prior to them developing. He added that he likes the Bermuda natural grass surface at 48,000-seat Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"We know we can do it, and it's something we have worked on," said freshman Wes Lyons, who will be playing in his first collegiate road game. "The downfield blocking aspect of the offense is very important. It's a major part, and we have to play our role."

It's certainly not glorious. The Mountaineer receiving corps caught just 15 passes for 180 net yards and a score in the win over ECU (1-2) last season, and so far this year have tallied 35 catches on 47 passes for 413 yards, an 8.8 yards per pass and 11.8 yards per catch average -- just a dent in the 1,459 yards of total offense amassed. But West Virginia is winning, and doing it easily because of the running game in which the receivers play a larger part than many fans realize.

"You have to block, that's a definite," senor receiver Brandon Myles said. "If your number is called, you have to make a play. I think we could get top athletes in here playing receiver. But I don't think their mentality can be expecting to get the ball all the time. Their first priority is to block."

Myles sprung Slaton multiple times against Maryland, and also stretched offenses earlier in the season with what is becoming a favorite skinny post pattern hookup between he and quarterback Patrick White. Myles also had a pair of grabs over the middle against the Terps, one of which went for a first down.

"Those guys can make some plays," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "As the season goes along people will see that these guys have a chance to make plays. They have been very big in downfield blocking. And we have athletes there. We will use them when we need to. Receiver is one of the positions we would like to get more players involved in. It being in the mid-80s in Greenville this weekend, we probably will play more guys."

That freshness, combined with the need to move the safety out of the box or continually capitalize on the single coverage outside means that receiver play could prove more pivotal than most believe. WVU has made it a tradition to gash East Carolina with the run. But that didn't happen last season, and some of that blame must go to the receivers as well as the line and the backfield.

"We played back a little bit," Myles said. "We have to go in there and play hard and not take it for granted, like we did last year."

Sophomore receiver Jeremy Bruce said West Virginia must find its hard-edged style of play in what is obviously the most difficult environment yet this year.

"We are not going in there thinking they are not a good team," Bruce said, "but we want to go into places and take their swagger away, so to speak. It's a huge game and it will be great. You know, a lot of people think maybe we can't catch the ball or can't run good routes. But we have guys that run a 4.4 and can catch. We just don't get the chance. And we don't need to when we are running that well. We have good running backs and Pat White and (fullback) Owen Schmitt. If we are ahead like we have been, we don't really need to pass.

"Our game is much better than last year and if we need to pass we will. Downfield blocking is big, too. It feels just as good to spring a block for a touchdown with a good block as it does to catch a touchdown pass. I am not thinking selfish. I am thinking team-oriented. We are going to make plays and going to let people see what we can do."


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