Plenty Left to Play For

Admittedly, West Virginia's chances at winning the 2007 national championship are gone after last week's road loss to Louisville. The Mountaineers still have plenty left to play for, though, and it starts with Saturday afternoon's game against Cincinnati.

During his weekly appearance on the Big East coaches conference call, Mountaineer mentor Rich Rodriguez addressed, for the first time all season, West Virginia and the national championship.

"Obviously that was one of the goals, but I never have and probably won't ever say ‘Guys, our goal is to play for the national championship and if we don't, it's a bad year," Rodriguez said. "We talk about competing for a Big East championship and playing at a high level. None of that has changed. Obviously with the national championship thing, I think a lot of our players had that in mind as an ultimate goal. It's hard, because only two teams are going to get there. We put ourselves in position in November to be close to that, and it didn't work out. We still have a tremendous amount of goals to take care of."

After flying back to Morgantown late Thursday night, the team had Friday off from football-related activities. Obviously, players came to the facilities to receive treatment. A few may have even stopped by to watch film. Saturday afternoon, the whole team reconvened, and was told by the coaching staff to put the loss behind them.

"I could tell there was a little bit of hurt there, and I think there was a little bit of hurt in all of us," explained the sixth year head coach. "They better not take losing well. You can't let it linger, though. Today at practice, we've got to move on. That's why I don't want anyone asking the players about the Louisville game or the ramifications because that's over with."

With that, the head coach turned his attention to Cincinnati. The Bearcats had plenty of growing pains in 2005, their first in the Big East. This year, though, everyone is a year older. Rodriguez has particularly noticed a lot of improvement in the Bearcat defense.

"Their defense was extremely young last year," he said. "I think their defense is playing as well as anyone we've played this year. They're tackling well, they're aggressive, and they've gotten more confidence in the past couple of weeks. They're playing their best football of the year right now when they're getting ready to play us."

The improvement in Cincinnati's defense should come as no surprise, given that head coach Mark Dantonio was formerly defensive coordinator at The Ohio State University.

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At one point during the conference call, Rodriguez the coach became Rodriguez the analyst. When asked about this Thursday's Big East showdown between Louisville and Rutgers, Rodriguez offered his thoughts.

"I know that (Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano) is an outstanding defensive coach, and they've got great players," said Rodriguez, who along with Schiano is the longest tenured coach in the Big East. "Louisville, obviously, is very explosive on offense. It should be a great game, and it should be a lot of fun for the people to watch."

One player the Scarlet Knights must contain in order to have success is the Cardinals' quarterback, Brian Brohm.

"He's certainly played well against us (in both 2005 and 2006)," Rodriguez admitted. "He played outstanding against us this past game. We probably made some things easier for him. We didn't play very well defensively and didn't really challenge Brian to a certain regard whether it was with pressure or coverage. He took advantage of it, and he played an outstanding game against us both times."

For the record, the Grant Town native says he will likely be watching on Thursday night. Part of that may have to do with the fact that he has yet to see the Scarlet Knights on film.

"Usually by this time of the year you'll have seen everybody on film, but we haven't gotten any of (Rutgers) yet," Rodriguez said.

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Coach Rod probably felt a sense of deja vu at one point during the call. One of the national writers asked Rodriguez to address criticism levied against the Big East in the wake of Thursday night's offensive shootout. Some pundits are saying the Big East is a conference that plays no defense.

"I think that part of it is a faction of people that still look for things to criticize from the Big East, regardless of anything else. If it was a low scoring game, they'd say there was no offense. If it was a high scoring game, they'd say there was no defense. I think that there are a handful of people who will criticize us no matter what we do as a league," said the former head man at Glenville State College.

"I think it's kind of crazy," he continued. "People are just waiting. I don't know if you can really put a whole lot into that or read too much into it. Because we're a smaller football league, I think that people will jump on us no matter what. Everyone was going to criticize the non-conference schedule without waiting until the end of the season. I know with our schedule, Maryland's looking pretty good right now, and so is East Carolina. Mississippi State went and beat Alabama at Alabama. I certainly think our league is still underrated, and I think that some other leagues are way overrated."

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On the injury front, defensive lineman Johnny Dingle is close to 100 percent. A pair of his defensive line teammates – Pat Liebig and Doug Slavonic – are not yet 100 percent, but will be able to take part in most of practice this week.


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