Friday Football Notebook

With the regular season finale against Rutgers right around the corner, we tie up some loose ends from the week.

West Virginia running back Steve Slaton will be the first to tell you that last Saturday's 43 yards on 18 carries in the loss to South Florida was his worst game in a Mountaineer uniform.

"It was tough, but you need those," admitted Slaton, who could earn consesnsus All-America honors in the next few weeks. "Without pain, there is no joy. That's football for you. We made a lot of mistakes, and we didn't execute well. We just had to see what we messed up on."

One reason for Slaton's lack of production last week was the limited availability of junior fullback Owen Schmitt. The 6'3" 240 pound bruiser has been hobbled in recent weeks by injuries to his knee and ankle. Slaton says that, without his lead blocker, the running room is tougher to find.

"It's a big difference. He's a helpful blocker. I don't have to worry about the first guy coming in and tackling me when he's in there, I can just move on to the next guy," said the sophomore, who is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.

"We've done a lot more one-back (without Schmitt). He's another weapon that we have, and not having him out there is tough. I think he'll put all of his injuries aside this week and be out there."

During last year's Rutgers game, Slaton got his first collegiate start. The Levittown, Pa. native finished that game with 139 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown.

"I had a few jitters, but I don't think the coaches would have put me in there if I wasn't ready," he recalled.

As for this year's game against the Knights, the Mountaineers won't be lacking in motivation. Saturday night's game will be the final home game for 25 seniors in the West Virginia program.

"I don't think that this week, we'll need a spark. We know what we need to do, we just have to go out there and make sure that we do it," said Slaton, who noted that he wants to send the seniors out with a win.

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Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has likely watched hours upon hours of Rutgers film this week. That doesn't make the task on Saturday night any easier, though, for his defense.

"They give you a lot of problems," said the Paden City, W.Va. native. "They have the backfield of Brian Leonard and Ray Rice, plus they have an outstanding tight end in Clark Harris. Those guys are all-Big East players, and probably All-American type of players as well."

One thing that has stood out to Casteel is how balanced the Knights are offensively. Yes, the backfield tandem of Rice and Leonard can makes things happen on the ground. According to Casteel, though, there's more to the Rutgers attack than simply running the football.

"They've got a lot of different ways to get different guys the ball," explained Casteel. "Brian Leonard is a guy that you have to account for all over the place as a receiver, and as a running back. They're very multiple in what they do, and they like to spread the ball around."

If the West Virginia defense shuts down the run early, look for the Knights to keep their star players involved through the passing game, much like West Virginia did with Steve Slaton against Pitt.

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Besides Schmitt, there are a couple of other players that have been limited by injury over the course of the week. The most notable of these players is quarterback Patrick White, who has missed practice time with injuries to his ankle and toe.

Should White either be too hurt to play, or need to be relieved during the game, redshirt freshman Jarrett Brown says he's ready to come in and lead the Mountaineers. In fact, when White limped off the field against USF, Jarrett says he was ready to go in if he had to.

"I was just remembering what we went over the past week, and trying to stay calm," said the soft-spoken signal caller. "I know that I can be in there at anytime, but I didn't know if he was hurt bad or not."

After playing extensively against Eastern Washington, Brown hasn't seen the field much at all since the season's first couple of weeks. Since that time, though he says he's gotten a better grasp on West Virginia's offensive system.

"I'm getting more comfortable than I was," he admitted. "I'm sitting in the pocket, and not getting happy feet or anything like that. I'm getting more patient, and I'm knowing where everybody else is (on the field)."

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