Thursday Gator Bowl Report

Injuries are a part of football. That's no big secret. When 22 men are running around in hard gear at full speed, something's gotta give. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the injury bug has bitten them as they prepare for Monday's Gator Bowl against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Headlining the injury list is consensus All-America running back Steve Slaton. A freak practice injury has slowed down the speedy sophomore, something that opposing defenses had trouble doing all season.

"It was a non-contact part in practice (when the injury occurred)," explained West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez. "I don't even remember what happened. He slipped, and somehow got a shoulder on the thigh and just got bruised up. It was weird that we were doing a non-contact drill when it happened. That happens, though. That's football, and when guys run around at full speed those things happen."

With the game just four days away, Slaton and the training staff are taking every necessary step to ensure his health come game day.

"You've got to loosen it up a little bit, and massage it some," Rodriguez said, while admitting that he didn't quite know all of the medical terminology associated with Slaton's treatment. "Steve's getting all of the treatment, and the training staff is doing all that they can we just have to take it day by day."

For part of the year, Slaton's chief backup was sophomore Jeremy Bruce, who has also seen time at slot receiver. If Slaton were to be limited, or worse yet not play, the Mountaineers would have to dip a little bit deeper into the depth chart as Bruce will more than likely miss the game with a hamstring injury.

The good news is that fullback Owen Schmitt is close to full health, which has not been the case since mid-November. If need be, Schmitt could play the tailback slot. Sophomore Ed Collington and senior Jason Colson are also options at tailback.

"Owen Schmitt being healthy is certainly a good thing," Rodriguez said. "Ed Collington and Jason Colson are getting a lot of reps, which they had at the end of the year. Both of those guys look good in practice."

Like Schmitt, sophomore quarterback Patrick White is also on the mend. The Daphne, Ala. native did not play in the season finale against Rutgers, but will be ready to go on Monday.

RIFLE REPORTS

  • Yesterday was the final practice in full pads for West Virginia. In years past, the Mountaineers would keep the full gear on until three days prior to the game, but took them off a day early last year. The fact that the strategy worked last year, combined with a stellar practice on Wednesday, made "dialing it down" and easy decision for Rodriguez.

    "It was probably one of the better bowl practices that we've had (during Rodriguez's five bowl weeks at WVU)," the sixth-year head coach said. "The intensity was good. It wasn't a long practice, but I thought that the guys were focused and pretty physical. As such, we took the pads off today. We're still going to run around full-speed, but we won't hit for the rest of the week."

    Despite the intense, heavy-hitting practice on Wednesday, there were no new injuries to report Thursday morning.

    "We banged a little bit yesterday. We don't go on the ground, and we don't tackle, but it was still full-speed contact and making it out of there is pretty good."

  • West Virginia has changed their Friday practice schedule. Originally, the Mountaineers were supposed to practice on Friday morning before heading to the Gator Bowl Coaches Luncheon and Hall of Fame Induction. They will now practice on Friday afternoon following the event, which begins at noon.

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