A Lesson To Be Learned

West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez dodged a major bullet during the fourth quarter of his teams 42-24 win over Cincinnati on Saturday. The question is, will he learn from the mistake he committed?

To set the scene, West Virgina led Cincinnati 42-10 in the fourth quarter. With twelve minutes to go, it was something of a surprise to see backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, along with subs at the running back and receiver spots, trot on to the field. Rodriguez' paranoia in these situations is well-known (as well as self-admitted), so it seemed as if he was making a bit of progress in this area. However, after Jeremy Bruce (twice) and Jason Colson put the ball on the ground with fumbles, Rodriguez made a rash decision.

"No more twos," the coach declared on the sideline. So, the starters, including quarterback Patrick White and fullback Owen Schmitt, trooped back out onto the field. And then, potential disaster struck. Schmitt, sweeping the left end, was coallared and caught awkwardly on a UC tackle. Schmitt's left knee buckled at a grotesques angle, and as he lay on the field for several minutes, hearts were in the throats of everyone still in the stadium. Schmitt, to the chants of "Owen, Owen" final arose and limped off the field.

At this point, it appears as if Schmitt will be able to play against Pitt, so Rodriguez admitted rash and hasty decision to pull all of the backups for the mistakes of a couple may not come back to bite the Mountaineers. However, if that is the case, it's only by the sheerest stroke of luck.

Rodriguez, now well into his sixth year as West Virginia's head coach, has learned a number of lessons during his tenure. His growth and improvement have been impressive to watch. However, in this instance, and others like it, he has to realize that he doesn't have the luxury of a knee-jerk reaction.

We've all had such moments of course. "Cleaning house" in response to frustrating mistakes is a natural reaction, but it's one that the head coach of a football team can't entertain. Rodriguez didn't fire his defensive coordinator or make wholesale changes to the defense following the Louisville loss. He made adjustments, not annihilations. But in doing so with his simple "no more twos" statement, he put future Mountaineer wins at risk.

I certainly understand Rodriguez' abhorrence of turnovers. Pulling Bruce or Colson after their drops would have been understandable. But in yanking Jarrett Brown, who did nothing wrong, the coach let his emotions get the best of him. Hopefully, that won't happen again.

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The whole superback depth situation continues to be a puzzle. Eddie Davis, who ran respectably early in thes season, continues to be a no-show on the field. Bruce, who flipped over from slot receiver, is now presumably in the doghouse for his fumbles. He takes up residence next to Colson, who just can't seem to maintain the handle on the ball. And Ed Collington, who also coughed up the ball in a brief appearance earlier in the year, continues to be troubled by bad ankles.

All that adds up to an incredibly shaky depth chart at the position, which argues all the more for protecting Schmitt and Slaton as much as possible. I understand that Rodriguez wants his backups to perform with the same efficiency as his starters, but they have to be allowed some room to fail as well. And if they do, exposing one of the two proven performers at the position to unnecessary punishment and potential injury isn't the way to address it.


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