Speed vs. Speed

West Virginia has two major bullets in its no-huddle offense. Syracuse, blessed with its own speed, has not played against them as a tandem. That sets up a unique match of skill sets and team schemes this Saturday.

No. 4 WVU's main two offensive threats, quarterback Patrick White and tailback Steve Slaton, didn't play major snaps in the season-opening road win over the Orange last season, making 3-3 SU the lone Big East team not to face the twosome as a unit last year. White completed three of six passes for 63 yards in reserve duty behind then-starter Adam Bednarik. Slaton did not play at all, sitting mostly until he splashed onto the scene with a 90-yard game against Virginia Tech in week five.

Only two other league schools, Rutgers and Louisville, even remotely dodged the shot gun-based bullets, as West Virginia (5-0) used former tailback Jason Gwaltney for six carries and 57 yards compared to Slaton's139 on 25 rushes versus the former. The latter saw the tandem take over the game, leading the Mountaineers to a 46-44 win after they trailed 24-7 with eight minutes left. White ran for a first down on fourth and nine to keep a drive going after Bednarik was injured, and Slaton hit for 188 yards and a school-record tying six scores – the game went into triple overtime – on just 31 carries. From there the two anchored WVU's run to an 11-1 season and Sugar Bowl win.

"Syracuse came out last year and held us pretty good," said center Dan Mozes, a Remington candidate who actually played guard during the game. "We won last year on defense because we fell apart and did not perform. But if you have never played against Pat White or Steve Slaton, that's to our advantage. They are another element. There are many great running backs in the nation, like (Oklahoma's) Adrian Peterson. But Steve Slaton brings something totally different. He brings the whole package: quick agility, long-distance speed and the power, being a bigger guy this year. And White can hurt you with the run."

The Orange limited WVU's turnover-prone team largely due to four fumbles, all lost, and an interception by Bednarik, who also completed 14 of 21 passes for 104 yards. A pair of early fumbles largely lost starting tailback and Rochester, N.Y. native Jason Colson his job, and West Virginia mixed Pernell Williams, Gwaltney and, eventually, Slaton before settling with the eventual Sugar Bowl MVP and White. Since taking over post-Louisville, White is a perfect 10-0 as a starter.

"Last year we went in there not knowing what to expect because of Syracuse's new coach (Greg Robinson, now in his second year) and what he would run," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Now we have some guys they have not seen. But they get film and all that, so it might not matter."

Au contraire. It reads here that one can study all the film on Slaton and White that one likes and believe that to be analogous to playing against them. But it's largely like reading the Shelby Foote series The Civil War and thinking that one has essentially made Pickett's charge as a CSA Quartermaster Sergeant. The realism can't be replicated, and the speed of White and Slaton – who Mississippi State stud linebacker Quinton Culberson said was the fastest tailback he had ever played against – will be greater than anything Syracuse has seen under Robinson.

"They lead the nation in sacks, so they have to have fast guys on there," Slaton said. "There is more at stake now being in Big East play. I feel I used my speed against (MSU's) speed. I think I ran better. That could be big against a faster defense. You can't weave too much against Syracuse because of those defensive ends."

Those are Jameel McClain and Lee Williams. McClain is tied for fourth in the nation with seven sacks and has 35 tackles, 8.5 of which are for loss. Williams has 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss for Syracuse, which ranks second in the NCAA in sacks with 26, an average of 4.3 per game. Those numbers might not translate to West Virginia, which is expected to again run on the vast majority of snaps against a 4-3 set that has allowed 159.9 rush yards per game and 4.3 per carry.

"We do a good job running, but their two defensive ends are real talented," White said. "So we'll need to watch that. I can't block them. That's the offensive line's job. I just go out and play my game. But nothing scares me, on the football field at least. If they are in my face I will have to step around it and get the ball away, avoid it as best as possible. They like to get to the quarterback, obviously."

That could setup a speed vs. speed battle, testing whether McClain and Williams can reach White and Slaton before they reach the next level. If the ends can help bottle the run, forcing it inside where the Orange linebackers can clean up the play, then Syracuse could stay in the game despite an anemic offense averaging just 23.1 points per game overall and 16.25 per game against the four BCS foes it has played.

"We're going to run," Rodriguez said. "That's our identity, what we do. But I do think it would be fun to see what happens if a team forces us to throw. Hopefully that doesn't happen anytime soon."

Flipside notes: Defensive backs coach Tony Gibson said he wanted to get freshman cornerback Guesly Dervil on the field for more snaps. He has moved ahead of fellow frosh corner Boogie Allen. Dervil is already playing on special teams.

"They both got a bunch of reps," Gibson said. "I think we should have been able to play them more this weekend. When you are in the fourth quarter and not comfortable yet, then they won't play. I know we want to play a lot of different guys and all that. But in the secondary it is like a shooting guard. When they are hot, you want to leave them in. Why pull them? Probably the mistake we made and I made was leaving Antonio (Lewis) in as long as we did this past weekend. We are five games in. We have to get ready to roll and get the stupid stuff gone.

Gibson also commented on Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson: "Where you see him getting better over the last few years is that I think he has a lot more poise as far as pocket presence. He feels a lot more comfortable this year as compared to last. He has lost some weight, down to 240, and he looks more mobile."

End rusher Johnny Dingle inarguably played his finest game as a Mountaineer last week against MSU, at least statistically. He recorded four tackles – all solo – three of which were for a combined loss of 17 yards. He also forced a fumble and had two sacks.

"You gotta have a swagger, a swagger before the game and stay with that swagger, keep chopping that wood and those trees that are quarterbacks will fall," Dingle said of WVU's sack breakthrough, when it went from none to six on one game. "We have been getting pressure. It's just that quarterbacks have been smarter, teams have been smarter. Teams just don't let you get a sack. Sacks don't just come every play. You keep going and you eventually get one.

"A sack is the best thing, to me. I prefer to get a sack than a touchdown. Getting that sack was really normal to me because it is something I have been doing all my life, sacking the quarterback. I kind of felt like I got that monkey off my back to get that quarterback sack. But until then, I just kept playing my game."


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