Saturday Gator Bowl Report

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – West Virginia's preparations for Monday's Gator Bowl against Georgia Tech are winding down. With less than 48 hours remaining before the opening kick, the excitement is revving up here in Jacksonville.

The team hasn't been in full pads since Tuesday, and head coach Rich Rodriguez says that his team will take things a little bit easier during the final two practices of the bowl prep.

"Today is mostly a mental day," said Rodriguez prior to this afternoon's workout at the University of North Florida Athletic Complex. "We'll cover a little bit of everything today in practice. We'll go through some special teams, every situation on offense and defense to follow a script and try to get through some situations that may not ever come up in a game, but that you have to prepare for nonetheless."

Saturday afternoon's practice was greeted with temperatures in the upper-70's, with a highs expected in the mid-80's by the day's end. For most of the weekend and into Monday, rain is a distinct possibility. The head coach vowed to ready his team for any adverse circumstances that Mother Nature may present, whether that means warm temps, or drizzling rain.

"I don't know (about the heat), because I think the forecast may call for a little bit of rain," he said. "(The heat) is going to be different for us and Tech because we're not having this type of weather back on campus. It's good to get a little bit used to the heat today. The warmer it is, there's no question that you have to play more people."

When bringing up the possibility of rain for Monday, the Mountaineer mentor was reminded of the 1982 Gator Bowl that featured the Mountaineers against Florida State. That game was played in a torrential downpour, with the Seminoles coming out on top by a final score of 31-12.

With rain being a threat, the Mountaineers were likely to spend part of today's practice going over wet ball drills.

"We'll do a little bit of that today," he said. "We usually cover that in the Thursday practice, and today is like a Thursday practice. We've played some games in the rain, but we've been pretty lucky this year. I'm just hoping that on Monday it doesn't rain a lot."

RIFLE REPORTS

  • The injury list is looking a little bit clearer. Fullback Owen Schmitt looked to be in good shape with his injured right ankle, and quarterback Patrick White is also looking better than he has in weeks.

    "You'd like to have everybody at full strength but, shoot, that's part of the game," said the head coach. "I'm excited to have Pat as healthy as he's been in a long time, and Owen too. Injuries are going to happen either before the game, or during the game, but the good teams are able to adjust to it."

  • Despite saying yesterday that he would no longer address the injury status of All-American running back Steve Slaton, Rodriguez touched on the subject once more today.

    "I think he's doing a little better," said the former Glenville State head coach. "Again, it's hard to judge it until you see him move around a little bit. I talked to Dave Kerns, our trainer, this morning, and he's going to do a little bit more today. We're going to let him take a couple of reps, and get loosened up a little bit. We still have a couple of days. He's been working hard, and we're going to see how he responds today. He's still questionable, though. I know you all want to talk to him, but to be honest with you I know what you're going to hammer him with. He's going to tell him the same thing that I will. We're just going to try to get through today, and get him a few reps, then see how he feels after practice."

  • The Mountaineers enter Monday's game with a 4-0 record this season when playing on natural grass. Alltel Stadium, of course, is covered in a natural surface. However, it wasn't much of a surprise to hear Rodriguez completely dismiss any pattern of his team playing well on grass.

    "I really think it's irrelevant," he said. "I think that it's just a matter of playing well during the game. We've played pretty well on the road, and we've been pretty good on different types of surfaces, but I don't think that our guys pay a whole lot of attention to it. It's just a matter of playing well out of the gate and executing well early."

  • Slaton was originally scheduled to meet with assembled media today at the practice field, but Rodriguez later decided to make him unavailable. It is not known whether or not the sophomore will meet with the press during tomorrow's Gator Bowl press conference at the Hyatt.

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