West Virginia allowed Mississippi State to convert six of 13 third downs. That's almost exactly on the season numbers for foes, which have gained a first down on 29 of 68 chances (43 percent). But the way in which WVU allowed it – multiple personal foul penalties and unneeded pass interference flags – lead to post-game comments from Rodriguez about lack of discipline and the vow, once again, to halt the 15-yard flags. Whether West Virginia actually does it obviously remains to be seen, but influential players like center Dan Mozes and linebacker Jay Henry said they would handle it, albeit each in their own ways, the former with more vocality and the latter with more emphasis on personal responsibility and examples of stellar and intelligent play.
On an upside, West Virginia emerged from the non-conference slate undefeated and unscathed. The 5-0 Mountaineers – unbeaten for the second time in non-conference play under Rodriguez, in his sixth year – have no significant injuries going into the Syracuse game, a home Big East opener. WVU has "a few bumps and bruises, but no injuries that will keep anybody out for the next game," according to Rodriguez.
Offensive lineman Frank Carduff, who was originally slated to be one of West Virginia's 75 travel players for the Mississippi State tilt, suffered a season-ending ACL tear on a non-contract drill in practice last week. His replacement could be Damien Crissey, who is scheduled to return to full contact this week in practice after a knee injury in the opening series in the first game against Marshall relegated him to the bench for the entire non-league season. The other injury to come out of the game was that of defensive lineman Keilen Dykes' right wrist. The junior had his fingers bent back to an extreme angle at MSU and, though he returned, he wore a wrap on it and the hand had swelled by the end of the 42-14 win. He is expected to play.
Rodriguez also towed the proverbial company line when asked about the rankings. West Virginia held at No. 4 in the Coaches Poll, though Florida jumped them, coming in third. Ohio State and USC were first and second, Auburn having vacated its spot with a 27-10 home loss to previously unranked Arkansas. The Mountaineers are No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, meaningless mathematically, if not psychologically for other fans and the impression upon voters in other polls, since it was taken out of the formal for ranking national title teams. WVU was No. 5 in the Harris Poll with Ohio State, USC, Florida and Michigan taking the one through four spots. Louisville was seven and Rutgers 24th.
"If I was concerned I would have looking it up," Rodriguez said. "I am not concerned until the end of the year. That's the good part about it. We have played good football at times and average football at times. But all you can be, the best you can be, after five games is 5-0. We took care of the non-conference portion of the schedule, and now I hope our guys feel that sense or urgency when we start tomorrow. We start defending our Big East championships again this week."
WVU has won at least a share of three consecutive titles and won the outright crown last year. It ironically started the non-conference slate with Syracuse last season as well with a 15-7 opening-game win at the Carrier Dome against an Orange team that was utilizing a new coach, nickname and offensive system. It has significantly improved its play, and SU – which leads the nation in sacks and is 3-3 overall, 0-1 Big East after a 21-11 home loss to Pitt – appears a pushover no longer, though the Mountaineers (5-0, 0-0) will surely be favored.
"I have watched some film and they play hard and they are playing wirth more confidence," Rodriguez said of a team that floundered under first-year head coach Greg Robinson last year. "They have athletes and they run to the football. They also put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so it will be another good challenge. It is simply a matter of players being in the system a second year. It clicks better and they understand the plays and the system and what they want done."
Syracuse has wins over Illinois, Miami (OH) and Wyoming and has lost to surprising Wake Forest, Pitt and Iowa in overtime. Quarterback Perry Patterson has played better, showcasing the skills and ability to throw that Orange fans expected two-plus years ago. And the defense has yet to allow any more than 21 points to a BCS foe.
"In Big East play you ratchet it up a lot," Rodriguez said.
The coach also credited West Virginia's running game, which rebounded from a sub-par performance at East Carolina to maul MSU for 314 net yards on 44 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per rush. Tailback Steve Slaton ran for 185 yards and one touchdown and quarterback Patrick White sealed the game with a 46-yard scoring run with 8:02 remaining. Fullback Owen Schmitt even recorded his first career two touchdown game, both coming on five-yard runs up the middle. WVU was the first team since Arkansas in 2003 to run for more than 300 yards on the Bulldogs. Arkansas tallied 322.
"We did better than we did against ECU assignment-wise," Rodriguez said. "We know we have to run, that that is our identity, and we got back to that this weekend. It was really the same plays. We just blocked better and saw holes better and executed better and that was biggest key. We also had many big runs brought back on holding penalties and left plays out there. And we had plays we were close to breaking that we did not. So it wasn't a perfect game, but it was better than the last one."