Conference Play Has Arrived

During his weekly spot on the Big East coaches conference call, Coach Rod took one last look back at Saturday's win over Mississippi State, and then talked about this weekend's homecoming game against Syracuse.

If you haven't heard, Rodriguez wasn't pleased with West Virginia's performance on Saturday afternoon, particularly when it came to discipline. The Mountaineers were flagged 11 times for 132 yards on Saturday afternoon. Seven of the penalties resulted in first downs for Mississippi State.

"To me, it's like seven turnovers because you're giving the ball back basically," Rodriguez said, though he did not sound quite as angry as he was on Saturday or even Sunday. "You can't have that. A couple of those were aggressive penalties, but some of them were not very smart. It's disappointing to me, and from a coaching standpoint we've got to get them corrected."

The Mountaineers no doubt had a few more conditioning drills than normal during their Monday afternoon practice. The head coach doesn't want his team to play less physical, but would like to see them play better fundamentally.

"I just want us to play West Virginia football: fast, hard, smart, physical. We didn't play very smart on Saturday, and that's something we'll address this week."

This coming weekend, Rodriguez and his troops return to Mountaineer Field for the first time since a September 14 beating of border rival Maryland. The Blue and Gold will open Big East Conference play on Saturday against Greg Robinson's Syracuse Orange, who West Virginia defeated in last season's opening game.

The Orange are in their second season under Robinson, and offensively use a West Coast offense. While the Mountaineers prefer to control the clock via the ground, Robinson's team will try to do the same by "dinking and dunking" their way down the field.

"With their offense, it's the short passes, the crossing routes, and the other things they like to do that let them control the ball with their passing game in addition to their running game," said the Grant Town, W.Va. native. "We've got to take away some of what they do well, and force them to do some things that they don't like to do."

Leading the Orange attack is senior quarterback Perry Patterson, who has been at Syracuse for roughly a decade. After having trouble adjusting to the West Coast offense, Patterson has hit his stride lately and, according to Robinson, is playing the best football of his four year career. Rodriguez agreed.

"He seems so much more comfortable right now, and I think in the second year in a system you'll have that. He's making good decisions, he's a very accurate thrower, he's a good athlete and he's playing really good football right now."

Defensively, the Orange have a solid front seven, and lead the nation in quarterback sacks with 26. That's a stark contrast to the Mountaineer defensive line, which had not recorded a sack until Saturday afternoon.

"They've done a good job getting pressure on the quarterback. We just got our first sack on Saturday, and they have 26. We've got to do a good job picking up the blitz and making sure we have a hat on a hat," Rodriguez noted.

With non-conference play in the rear view mirror, Rodriguez must get his team focused on capturing a fourth straight Big East title. That could be harder than ever before, given the conference's stellar showing in non-conference games this season. The Mountaineers, along with Louisville and Rutgers, are all ranked in the Top 25. Pitt, at 5-1, could also be in position for a spot in the polls after this week.

"I think the conference, not only from that standpoint, but it's the most successful non-conference record we've had for some time. It's been a very good start to the season, and I think all of the teams right now are ready for conference play," said Rodriguez. "In reality, from top to bottom, the Big East has more than held it's own so far. Our first goal every year is to win the Big East. We take a lot of pride in that."

For Rodriguez and the Mountaineers, the road to number four starts in five days.

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