Things Of That Nature - Pitt Edition

West Virginia head football coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff will be playing the role of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and other famous detectives this week as they try to decipher a headscratcher – what causes their defense to play much better during practice than in games?

"We have to try to figure the defense out," Rodriguez said after watching the players on that side of the ball execute a remarkable turnaround in the second half against Pitt. "We see them playing more confidently in practice than they do in games, and that's puzzling. Usually in front of a crowd, you crank it up and play a little better. It's been perplexing."

With a couple of extra days before the South Florida game on Nov. 25, Rodriguez will have a bit more time than he normally does to work on defensive matters. He noted that it can be difficult in midseason to do the sort of deep analysis he wants to conduct, simply because of a lack of time between games.

"I've tried a couple of different approaches with them. We've had them in for meetings, and we've talked about it some during our previous open week. I'll watch the defensive tapes a couple of times more and use the extra days we have. I don't want to push the panic button yet, because I know we can be more comfortable in games if we get some stops early. It just hasn't happened yet. But we're going to figure out that Jekyll and Hyde personality."

What Rodriguez is looking for is the ability to tap into that "hard edge" that he wants his team to play with all the time. Too often, that edge has been more like a butter knife, as the defense has played very tentatively at many points during the season.

Against Pitt, WVU was extremely soft in the first half. Tackle attempts were weak and unconvincing, and defensive backs rarely were close enough to receivers to challenge them after receptions. And although it wasn't a defensive play per se, many defenders were on the field for Darrelle Revis' 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, which featured more lame efforts than Paris Hilton's acting career.

All that changed in the second half, as West Virginia's defense began breaking on the ball more quickly, tackling receivers before they had the chance to run, and hounding Pitt QB Tyler Palko with sacks and hits that caused incompletions. Should the coaching staff be able to figure out how to get that play from its defense over the final two games, WVU will likely be hoisting another league trophy and making plans for a BCS game.

"We're not overloaded with All-Americans over there, but we have some guys who can play," said Rodriguez. "I liked our energy out there in the second half. We needed a little confidence boost [on defense], and we got one in the second half of the Syracuse game. But the defense is just hard to figure out, to be honest with you. I hope they did get some confidence in the second half."


Although it might not seem possible, Rodriguez said that there was room for improvement in his team's offensive execution.

"They could have done better at times. We made quite a few mistakes on offense, and Pitt was a part of that. But overall, [the second half] was probably the best half of football we played. We took up the last 8:17 on last drive -- it was nice to see that. There were no turnovers and few penalties, and I thought it was a pretty well-played game. I thought players on both teams played hard and smart."

* * *

Asked if he could pick, even privately between Slaton and White in a hypothetical Heisman race, Rodriguez played it straight down the middle.

"I don't know," he said if he could pick between the two. I know Steve has gotten a lot of talk about it. We don't mention it, because we try to be team-oriented. I think both belong among the talk about the best players in the country, based on their performances/ I think Pat White is one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

"In our offense it's a quarterback-centered offense. The QB in our offense is like a point guard that has to be able to shoot the three. Pat has great command of the game, and he is getting better and better. His best football is still ahead of him."

* * *

WVU will sneak in an extra day of rest and treatment, but will still have time to get a head start on South Florida. The team will get Friday and Saturday off, with those requiring attention coming in for treatments, and then begin practice again on Sunday. The coaching staff is on the road this weekend for recruiting evaluations, and thus there won't be any visits to West Virginia this weekend.

* * *

Rodriguez noted that White and Slaton made the most of their chances, even with the aforementioned offensive miscues.

"We made some mistakes in the run game we haven't made in a couple of weeks. But Steve and Pat made some big, big runs. Pat's run on third down and 13 to get a first down and get us out of a hole was big.

* * *

Reed Williams, who has been near the top of the tackle charts the past two weeks, drew some praise from Rodriguez.

"Reed played his best game last week against Cincinnati. He hurt his shoulder a bit, and missed some practice time, but he is still playing well. He has been one of our most consistent linebackers all year.

* * *

Rodriguez described the process of installing wrinkles for particular opponents – something that was executed well against Pitt. By passing out of some four and five wide receiver sets, and using more option looks, WVU rolled up 643 yards against the beleaguered Panther defense.

"We have a list of plays we work from," Rodriguez explained. "We might have run one early in the season, so we'll get it out and dust it off. It might be a similar [pass] route package out of a different formation, or changing things up by putting a player in a little different spot. We've been doing things like this for a while, but we don't want to overload the team.

"A lot of it depends on how teams play us," he continued. "There will be things tat we see that we think will work."

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