Making the Grade

Lost in the 641 yards of total offense, the 45 points and co-Big East Offensive Players of the Week was a line performance that was sub-par at best.

And though it might be nice to have such seemingly trivial problems after rushing for more than 400 yards and having Pat White and Steve Slaton named conference players of the week, a similar lack of execution will hurt No. 7 West Virginia more this weekend, when the Mountaineers (9-1, 4-1 Big East) face a South Florida team that is among the fastest it will play this season. The linebackers run extremely well, and the Bulls, one of four BCS teams in Florida, have recruited speed to the defense in recent years.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez said WVU did not grade well along the line. The usual dependables up front, like center Dan Mozes and right guard Jeremy Sheffey, did not have exceptional games, and some of the plug-ins, like left guard Greg Isdaner, struggled. Isdaner was pulled for the entire fourth quarter for John Bradshaw. The missed assignments are nothing major, and White and Slaton made up for it with their field vision and speed, but if the line cannot execute more effectively, Slaton – who was held to 86 yards on 28 carries last year – could again be bottled.

"Up front, some of us are not getting the job done," said Mozes, a Remington candidate as one of the top collegiate centers. "We are coming off the ball hard, but it a lack of fundamentals and technique. Those are lacking. We hope to get that corrected this week."

USF (7-4, 3-3) was gashed by run-oriented offenses like Rutgers, who was the first team to score in the opening quarter against the Bulls this year, Cincinnati and Connecticut and have shown a penchant to wilt in physical games. The Bearcats pummeled South Florida on the ground, but were held through the air to just 105 yards. That hardly mattered, and will hardly matter, to West Virginia if it can run as well as UC did. That's something the Mountaineers, which ran for a now-pedestrian 128 yards outside of White, did not do last season in a 28-13 win that sealed the school's second ever outright Big East title (1993).

"As a defense, if you commit enough players to stopping one thing, you can do it," Rodriguez said. "But it's hard to stop everything."

Such was the case in Tampa last year. White made up for Slaton's lack of yardage by rushing for 177 yards on 11 carries, including scoring runs of 65 and 76 yards. The 76-yarder was arguably the best run of White's career. He went down the sideline, then cut three times inside the 10 yard line, making multiple tacklers miss. It's that elusiveness, showcased nationally in the win over Pitt, that often allows one to overlook line errors or other ineffective play up front. But it did not go unnoted by WVU's coaching staff.

"We grade every little thing," Rodriguez said. "And we did not grade well against Pitt, for whatever reason."

Said Mozes: "It is getting that first step and the hat placement. There were a few plays where I should have gotten the guy. I got him blocked, but I had to strain to keep the block and get hat placement. He made the tackle when Pat White could have broken a long one. Things like that really matter in the game. We came off the ball harder in the second half than the first, but it was a matter of (White and Slaton) running well. We waited around and tried to see what (Pitt was) doing. The second half, we tried to dictate what they could do."

West Virginia will have a similar plan for South Florida this weekend. If the Bulls focus too much on Slaton, they'll be burned by White, as they were last season. Otherwise, the Mountaineers will try to dictate, through their weapons, what USF can do defensively. Much of that will come from the line play. If WVU can block how it has in earlier games, it should be fine. If not, USF will be able to plug gaps and slide into position to make plays, using its speed and Mountaineer miscues within the zone blocking scheme.

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