Rod Report - MSU

A main concern of head coach Rich Rodriguez and the West Virginia training staff going into the Mississippi State game continues to be player cramping.

The No. 4 Mountaineers (4-0) had several players dehydrate during their road win at East Carolina on Sept. 23. It was in the low 80s for that game, and this weekend's predicted weather – 85-90 degrees with average-to-high humidity in Starkville, Miss. – could pose even great challenges for WVU, which practiced mainly in 65-70 degree weather during the off week and will see just one day in 80-plus degree weather in Morgantown prior to this weekend's game at MSU (1-4).

The plan is to hydrate players as much as possible up to 48 hours before the game. Studies have shown that hydration even that far out can carry over during the game and help prevent the loss of key players like tailback Steve Slaton and receiver Darius Reynaud, both of whom missed two series in the third quarter of the ECU contest for cramps.

"If you are going to play down south in early October, you will get that," Rodriguez said. "We got a bit of that at East Carolina, but it wasn't that hot. Physically we have to be ready to play lot of people. It's the same for both teams, and we have to be ready for it. Our guys have to stay hydrated. It is hard because Slaton cramped up, and he is in great condition. You try to hydrate as much as you can before the game, but some guys lose so many fluids that you can't replenish everything.

"Slaton got IVed at halftime (last week), but once you start cramping it is usually hard to get that back. So we have to be conscious of that early in the game and get the guys that are losing a lot of fluid some rest."

One way to do that is to take them off of special teams. But those are the lone plays in the game that consistently swing field position 30-40-plus yards. WVU tries to use its best athletes there, so it will also explore rolling in more players in varying positions.

"You just have to become accustomed to it," Rodriguez said of the weather. "I can remember at Tulane, we had a 115-degree heat index (during fall drills) and we stayed out there, and after 2-3 weeks our guys were accustomed to it. We even turned the air off (in the Superdome, where Tulane plays its home games) because our guys were used to it. But then it was still hot in the dome the next day when the (NFL's New Orleans) Saints played, so that stopped. It was brutally hot and humid in there. And our first game at Cincinnati, they came out in all black in 90-degree weather. We ran the no-huddle at them and their guys were cramping in the first quarter. So you get used to it. But how are you going to get used to it in West Virginia if it isn't hot and humid? You can't do it."

One position that will be slightly affected is the Mountaineer receiving corps. Slot wideout Jeremy Bruce has been suspended for DUI. He will not play against or make the trip to MSU, leaving an opening for Carmen Connolly, Tito Gonzales and a recovering Dorrell Jalloh to play additional snaps. Quarterback and receiver Nate Sowers has been cleared to play after suffering a hamstring pull in late-game action against Eastern Washington. Jason Colson can also man the H-wideout position, which is a slot, but he has not practiced there much because of the thin depth at tailback. Rodriguez said approximately 75 players will travel.

The sixth-year WVU head coach also addressed Mississippi State's ability to stop the run. The Bulldogs have allowed a solid average of 104.2 yards rushing per game. They have the best front seven West Virginia will face in non-conference action, according to Rodriguez, and the active linebacker corps can run well. That could hurt the Mountaineers, who run to set up the pass, more than a team like LSU, which blew out MSU 48-17 in Baton Rouge via a 330-yard passing performance by quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The Tigers led 35-0 early in the second quarter with three of the five scores coming through the air.

"You look at a team like Auburn, who everybody knows likes to run the football, and they got 108 yards," he said. "(MSU's) front seven is very good stopping he run because of their size and quickness. They are the most athletic front seven we have played this year. A common misconception is that they do it because they get everyone involved (putting more players in the box). That's not the case. LSU got three big plays in the first quarter. For us to have success, we have got to try to run the football and get big plays in the passing game. We have not gotten as many big plays as we think we will need the rest of the season in the passing game."

West Virginia's largest gainer to date has been a swing pass to Darius Reynaud, which the junior turned into a 60-yard score. But Rodriguez insists that West Virginia can pass, and that it is not necessarily a bad thing when teams force it to do so, though quarterback Patrick White threw three interceptions with Slaton bottled by East Carolina in the 27-10 win.

"Our guys understand you can't mess around with these guys," Rodriguez said. "If we play as poorly as we did at times in the last game, we will be in trouble. I am not trying to coach-speak. They have guys that will play on Sundays. The Quinton Culbertson kid (a MLB) is very good. … It's easy to say ‘Why don't you just run this play?' Well, you have to be able to complete it. You don't call things you can't execute. In the passing game, you only want to throw routes and passing plays that you can complete. Sometimes it's the receiver getting to a spot, the line giving protection enough. It's not always the quarterback."

Another concern is the mobility of the other signalcaller, 6-1, 235-pounder Omarr Conner. The senior has started the last two games under center after beginning the season at receiver. Former starter Mike Henig was hurt in the season-opening 15-0 loss to South Carolina and reserve Tray Rutland was pulled for Conner in the middle of the 32-29 home loss to Tulane. Conner, who was heavily recruited by Rodriguez, has a 122.38 pass efficiency rating after completing 44 of 76 passes for 568 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He is the Bulldogs' second-leading rusher behind tailback Anthony Dixon (247 net yards) with 119 net yards and two scores – including the game-winner in overtime against Alabama-Birmingham – on 27 carries.

"Conner gives them a spark," Rodriguez said. "By moving Omarr back (to QB), now they have a chance to make a play if things break down. It has ignited them. The plays they have made have been Omarr Conner making things happen. When you have an athletic QB you can make plays in a hurry. There is no question a key for us is keeping Omarr Conner in the pocket and making him make other plays."

On the injury front, safety Ridwan Malik and defensive lineman Doug Slavonic have finally both been cleared to play after injuries during fall camp. Offensive lineman Damien Crissey, who was hurt in the opener against Marshall, is slated to return within the next two weeks. Tailback Ed Collington has been cleared to play. He is still receiving treatment for an ankle injury, and Rodriguez said he as a slight limp that "might just be pshycological."

"We are as healthy as we can be after five weeks," Rodriguez said. "If we can get through today's practice, that's a pivotal point. Do that and we will go down there healthy."

Note: The Mississippi State game will be offered to West Virginia cable companies. It is up to the individual cable companies as to whether they want to pick it up for a pay-per-view basis. There will be no satellite company feeds, no DirectTV, and no ESPN GamePlan coverage. This decision was made by the SEC. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. EST/1:30 p.m. Central.

"We were hoping it would be on TV for southern recruiting," Rodriguez said. "For fans, it is a long trip. But they will be able to listen to (WVU play-by-play announcer) Tony (Caridi) do the play-by-play. It's a fine opportunity to listen to Tony and (color analyst) Dwight (Wallace), and they'll describe the action and you'll feel as if you were there. We know a lot of high school coaches down there that will come and watch us play. So it will be fun."

White, from Daphne, Ala., is bringing two busloads full of fans. Tight end Mookie Tate, from Noxubee County High in Macon, Miss. will also have several family members there.

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