Friday Gator Bowl Report

Most of the talk surrounding West Virginia's preparations for the Gator Bowl has focused around the health of quarterback Patrick White, and running back Steve Slaton. While White's high ankle sprain has healed tremendously over the past couple of weeks, the same cannot be said for Slaton's thigh bruise.

Prior to West Virginia's Friday afternoon practice, Rodriguez was asked if Slaton's status had changed at all since yesterday afternoon.

"That's a fair question, but this is going to be the last time that I talk about it," said an obviously perturbed Rodriguez. "To be honest with you, I'm tired of talking about it and I'm not really comfortable talking about it. He's still questionable. He's better today than he was yesterday, and hopefully he'll be better tomorrow than he is today. It's just hard to determine where he's going to be in a couple of days"

If Slaton cannot play, fullback Owen Schmitt (who himself has been battling injuries), and backup tailbacks Jason Colson and Ed Collington will get the reps. While none of those players are quite to the level of Slaton, Rodriguez says that their presence won't change what the Mountaineers will try to do on offense.

"Injuries are a part of (football) but we'll run our same system," said the sixth-year head coach. "We've got other guys. Obviously, you want to have your best players out there, but as a coach you adjust and a lot of times you adjust as the game goes along.

"If I didn't have confidence in them, then I wouldn't be (giving them reps)," he said. "Now, can we talk about something else? There are other issues, other things."

With full-contact drills having ended on Wednesday, the Mountaineers are now focusing more of their practice efforts on the mental part of the bowl game, and making sure they're familiar with everything they want to do on both sides of the ball. Georgia Tech is an opponent that Rodriguez has not faced while at West Virginia, thus mental preparation will be key in this match-up between unfamiliar foes.

"It's more assignment-wise, particularly with a team like Georgia Tech that challenges you on both sides of the ball scheme-wise," Rodriguez noted. "It's polish, and there's a lot more mentally like different formations. There are a whole lot of dynamics to it. At a bowl, you want the kids to enjoy themselves and have some free time, but you also are there to win a game."

Having been in Jacksonville since Monday night, Rodriguez is very pleased with the way his team has gone about handling all of the hustle and bustle of being at something that's equal parts football game and event.

"I said the other day that I thought we had two of the best padded practices that we've had in a long time, and two of the best all season," he reiterated. "I see smiles on their faces, and they're very prompt at all of the functions."

One of those functions came earlier in the day on Friday, when West Virginia's players and coaches attended the Gator Bowl Luncheon and Hall of Fame Inductions. Players and coaches from Georgia Tech were also in attendance. It was the first time that both teams had been in the same place this week.

"It was a very nice affair," he said. "It was the first time that our players have probably gotten to see their players. They're a classy bunch. Their coaches are first class, and their players seemed to have a great amount of class and dignity. As coaches, I think we'd rather just go practice and have meetings, and sit and relax with our families, but these events are nice and something that we'll remember."

The beginnings of West Virginia's past two bowl games have been complete opposites. In the 2005 Gator Bowl against Florida State, the Seminoles jumped out to a 10-0 lead, causing Rodriguez to quip "We were down 10-0 before the (flyover) jets even landed." In last year's Sugar Bowl, the Mountaineers jumped out to a 28-0 lead before holding off a late Georgia rally to win 38-35. Against the Yellow Jackets, a great start would be great, but not guarantee a win. Likewise, a slow start would not necessarily guarantee a loss.

"I think it helps from a confidence standpoint," Rodriguez said of a fast start. "I'd like to think that our team is mature enough to handle it if we get off to a slow start. In football, though, the momentum is a big thing, particularly in bowl games. If you get momentum, it builds your confidence up. Last year, we got off to a big start. In past years, we've gotten off to a terrible start. Obviously, we hope to at least hold our own early."


  • Slaton did not take the field during the 20 minutes of practice open to the media. Rodriguez listed Slaton's status as questionable, and whether or not he plays will almost certainly be a game-time decision.

    Defensive lineman Craig Wilson was back on the practice field on Friday, but wearing a green (limited contact) jersey. Rodriguez has listed him as doubtful for the game.

  • When asked if he thought a win would give West Virginia a boost heading into next season, Rodriguez dismissed such a notion.

    "It may give you a little boost in recruiting, and it may give your fans something to be excited about going into next season but I think that our fans are going to be excited about next season anyway because we have a lot of good players coming back. I don't think there's any correlation with winning the bowl game and how you do next season."

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