"I think we are a team that tries to practice itself into shape," said Rodriguez, who noted that he would rather have the open week right before the conference slate. "When you have that short week you lose some of those practice days that get you in shape. I am not going to give them a long weekend this time. The first thing we will do is some fundamental work, as well as work on tackling and techniques. There won't be as much done on individual work, but we will take a peek at Mississippi State. And If we are going to look at anything new to put in offense and defense, now is the time to do it. I don't want to say off-weeks are experimental weeks but we might have two or three plays on offense and two or three on defense that we will look at. We will install those."
West Virginia will also lift this week. The travel squad typically lifts twice per week with the non-travel players lifting three times. The Mountaineers, who will ‘thud it up' won't go fully live in any session, but will do enough physical work in shoulder pads to practice tackling, which was decent at ECU, but not near on par with the Pirates' performance.
"This will help get some guys a bit healthier and we can clean up some things," Rodriguez said. "I think about four games in is about right. You have a tendency when you just play games is that you get away from fundamentals. A lot of coaches do that. In the open week, you get back to it."
Despite Mississippi State's 1-3 start, the Bulldogs are a typical Southeastern Conference team with all the trimmings of potential NFL players. Rodriguez told his players that MSU would have more players taken in the draft than would WVU, estimating that three ‘dogs would go in day one from the defense alone. It has been that side of the ball that has allowed Mississippi to even stay in games with an offense that has been anemic early, but seems to have found a weapon in running quarterback Omar Connor, a player who could cause West Virginia's 3-3-5 odd stack defense fits.
"They are the most talented team we have played so far out of our most talented opponents; More talented than Maryland at this point, especially defensively. … It was good to get into a hostile environment. Some of the guys like the Pat Whites and Steve Slatons have done that. But some have not. To get a sense of the emotion of teams was good. You can talk all you want as coaches about getting a team's best shot and how jacked up the fans will be and people shouting things, and it was good to have that, because we got all of it."
It is expected to be much louder at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field in Starkville, Miss. The double-deck structure, which holds 55,082, is known to have among the most raucous fans in the SEC for its size. It is also home to the legendary cowbells, a noise-making prop carried in – legally or not – by Bulldog faithful. The SEC has outlawed artificial noisemakers for conference games, but MSU allows the bells for non-conference foes.
"I had an experience with the cowbells and playing them with Clemson (where Rodriguez used to be offensive coordinator) in the Peach Bowl," he said. "You can imagine the noise I that (Georgia) Dome. You can imagine what 30,000 cowbells in that dome sounded like. Then I think all 30,000 were back in our hotel after the game. They were still ringing them. It can be very loud. What you hope is that your guys make enough plays to keep the crowd out of it early.
"That's part of what the SEC prides itself on is their fans and the loyalty and passion they have and the tailgating, the support and the big budgets of the programs. I don't think there are any SEC schools that want for anything as far as facilities and support and personnel needed. As far as keeping up with the Joneses, they were one of the first ones to do that. Sylvester has those guys playing hard. I know they struggled a bit on offense, but they are more dangerous now with Omar Connor, who we tried to recruit. And they have those future NFL guys on defense. The old axiom was that southern football was speed and northern football was power. I think because everybody up north recruits down south, I don't think there is as much difference. That is past perception. But 30-40 years ago it was probably true. I think (the SEC bowl tie-ins) helped them in the past. I don't know if it does as much anymore. If I am in the SEC I am selling that the program plays in the best conference in the nation against the best competition. The SEC prides itself on saying that and they have a legit claim to that every year. I remember being at Clemson and going 5-5 my first year and South Carolina was 0-10 and there were 90,000 there and another 10,000 that could not get in. It was as loud of a stadium I have ever been in in 20 years of college coaching. There is great passion for it there.
"You talk to our guys and they know it is an SEC team on the road at their place. And let's make it clear: We have some very talented players. We got some guys who will hopefully play in the NFL and we have some who could play for anybody in the country. But we are not one of those who are just going to lineup and mess around and beat people. We are not overloaded with first-round NFL draft picks on the team. But that is ok. That doesn't mean you can't have a good football team. It doesn't tell you what type of team you have. We have to understand how we have to play and how we have to execute and why we win games. We win because we have guys who play hard and execute and understand what they are doing. When you have really good players who do that – like I think we have – you can win games."
Notes: Reserve quarterback Nate Sowers remains in a green (limited contact) shirt with a hamstring injury. He is expected back by the next game, though he might not be 100 percent.
It has been rumored that Ball State could buy out WVU's contract with them, slated to start next season. Rodriguez said he had not heard anything about it. "But I'm usually the last one to find out," he said.
The Mississippi State game will not be televised. The SEC, which has the TV rights, decided it did not want the contest to air. It selected two other games each for CBS, ESPN and ESPN2. The Bulldogs' 1-3 mark likely was the reason.
"We were hoping it would be televised," Rodriguez said. "Obviously we can't invite recruits to the game because it is their home game. But we were hoping when we scheduled, that is one of the reasons we schedule an SEC team, to have a visible presence down south. Maybe some of their recruits might be interested in us if they come to the game. We have recruited down south for many years, particularly in Florida under (former WVU head coach) Don Nehlen. (Current assistant head and offensive line coach) Rick Trickett has recruited Mississippi and in Mobile, Alabama because that he is familiar with that area. It has been beneficial to us. We try to focus recruiting in the northeast and southeast. But if there is a young man interested in us from anywhere and we think he can help us win championships we will recruit him if he has all the other things like character, academics and all that."
After watching film, Rodriguez and offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee said Slaton did not press or run as poorly as originally thought.
"He ran better than we thought," Rodriguez said. "We thought he was trying to do too much and wasn't taking what was there, maybe on some of the runs he could have got more. But that's the thing: he ran well. There were a couple where he could have gotten a yard or two and he did not need to do some of the juking or whatever. But he ran hard. There were frustrations at times and it was one of those games where you could sense things were not going right and we were not executing as well as we would have liked and it was hot and there was a tough crowd. But I did not see anybody panic on the sidelines, so I think that was a step. There will be a lot more of those."