Rod Report – Western Michigan

West Virginia's spread offense will have to decipher exactly how Western Michigan – under new defensive coordinator Bill Miller – wants to defend it.

The No. 6 Mountaineers have a known commodity of talent and ability. But the Broncos, which ranked 11th in total defense last year, both tackle well in space and show multiple fronts and coverages. That's been a successful defensive duo in the past against WVU; teams that have played West Virginia close, like East Carolina, had the athletic ability and wrap-and-tackle skills to slow the backfield and create chances for third-and-long to force the pass. If WMU can do that, it can rely on its deep and experienced secondary to defend what's considered the weakest offensive link in the receivers.

"You think you have seen it all. Then you come into the season and someone shows you a different look and (it's) ‘Wow, where'd that come from?'" Rodriguez said. "You have to be able to adapt to it. Especially with quarterbacks like Pat (White) and Adam (Bednarik), the two experienced ones, they have seen a bit of everything. But I would not be surprised if somebody does something unconventional. We have worked really hard on trying to figure out every scenario.

"In the first game especially you are always really nervous because you don't know how they are going to defend us. Are they going to defend us like they did teams last year? Are they going to defend us the way their coaches did in the past? You don't know until you play them. It can be ugly at times, especially in the first half. We have to keep our poise and try to execute what is called."

Miller, who came to Western Michigan from Arizona State after a stint as the associated head coach at Florida in 2004, has 30 years of coaching experience, 19 as a defensive coordinator. He inherited a WMU squad that led the nation in sacks per game (3.54), interceptions (24) and broke the Mid-American Conference record for average rushing yards allowed per game in one season (76.1). The former Nick Saban under study at Michigan State has traditionally formed defenses that have stopped the pass effectively and managed to pressure the quarterback. His all-around prowess and in-game ability to make adjustments should help Western Michigan to control West Virginia despite the talent gap.

"These guys strain as well as anybody in America," Rodriguez said. "They strain to get off blocks, to make tackles. The secondary is a strength. For us, teams that have tackled well in space have done a good job against us. And they tackle well in space. I am sure they are pretty confident defensively that they will have a good plan and be able to execute it. They are a good pressure team and they can make you one-dimensional with a lot of their packages. They have that new coordinator, but his personality and the former coordinator's are the same. He is a big pressure guy, make you pitch and catch and execute a little bit."

If the Broncos can adequately pressure the passer and slow the backfield, a la East Carolina in 2005 and '06, it can battle the wideouts, which have been arguably the least impressive aspect in camp. Only Darius Reynuad, who Rodriguez said has had a "really good series of practices" and is in the best shape of his life, is proven. Of now, Dorrell Jalloh is West Virginia's No. 2 receiving threat. The Greensboro, N.C. native can man all four wideout slots and has made some additional catches that have given the staff more confidence. The X position, which can be played by Reynaud and Jalloh if needed, is wide open. Receivers coach Tony Dews is hoping former tailback Eddie Davis can win the spot because he can provide a burst on the outside. Davis has enough speed "that when somebody goes one-on-one he can run right by them," according to Rodriguez.

"The best thing he has is his speed," the seventh-year WVU coach said. "And he has ball skills, he can catch the ball. I don't know if Eddie really wanted to make the move full time. I think he was half-committed to it. Now I think he realizes that's his opportunity to get on the field more. Everyday now you see more of a spark out of him. He can streth the field better than most of the guys on the team. That alone gives us another dimension. He has got enough ability to help us. We want his progress to go faster because we know he can be a threat out there."

Rodriguez said the offensive execution has been better over the last two weeks. West Virginia is healthy on that side of the ball. Only Wes Lyons is questionable, that because of a hamstring injury that continues to bother the sophomore. The coaching staff had thought about redshirting Lyons, who played as a true freshman but had not practiced at full speed during the lead-up to the opener until Monday. Rodriguez will make the redshirting decision by the end of September.

"We are going to go day-by-day," Rodriguez said. "Wes is a smart guy and he knows what we are doing. But you have to take reps. When you get a chance you have to show a few things. We are not just going to put you out there. I am anxious to see what Wes does (Tuesday and Wednesday) and, in a limited role, what he can do Saturday."

Noel Devine and Jock Sanders will get snaps against Western Michigan, likely at tailback and slot receiver. The amount of snaps, especially over the entire regular season, is still unknown. Much will depend on how Slaton feels and if WVU can find other wideouts that can help.

"I think it's been a matter of being healthy and them having enough confidence in what we're doing," Rodriguez said of the receivers. "It's been pretty simple what we have done with them package-wise. We have a few guys still learning. We have freshmen like Will Johnson who will get a chance. I think Alric Arnett has a chance to help. There is some ability there. This will be a key week to see if anyone else can emerge."

As for Slaton, the junior is healthier than he was at this time last year (wrist fracture) and is bigger. Rodriguez thinks the All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate can carry more times this season and play more snaps then he did last year. Slaton ran just three times in the Gator Bowl win over Georgia Tech because of a thigh bruise. He has rushed for 2,872 yards and is the NCAA active leader in touchdowns (37), points per game (9.7), rush yards per game (124.9) and yards per carry (6.34). Slaton, in a effort to get him in space where he can utilize his raw speed and often-overlooked power, has taken snaps at slot receiver as well as superback.

"We were really protective of him, believe it or not, last year at times because of his wrist," Rodriguez said. "There were times when we would take him out and put Owen (Schmitt) in because we did not want Steve to injure that wrist blocking. That's out the window now. He will carry a lot. But whether we put Jock or Noel or Owen in there will depend on the situation and what play we want to run. … When you are playing true freshmen it makes you a little nervous from an experience standpoint. But the only way to get experience is to play. Pat White and Steve Slaton were pretty good as redshirt and true freshmen. Our thing is, if you are good enough to win with and are ready, we will play you. We have just three seniors on offense, so we are still pretty young at certain spots."

West Virginia plans to hit Tuesday, then begin gradually toning down drill sessions Wednesday and Thursday before Friday's base walk-through. It is as healthy as it has been since the start of fall camp, with just linebackers Reed Williams (elbow) and Bobby Hathaway (hand) expected to not play as many opening game snaps as they otherwise would have.

RIFLE REPORTS

Rodriguez was asked if he had ever coached or played against a backfield with the talent of West Virginia's.

"I'm around them all the time, so it's really hard for me to quantify our backfield compared to someone else's," Rodriguez said. "We really have the same weapons we did last year. The key is can we execute it and can we spread the wealth so to speak, when they defend with everybody in the box against Steve and against Patrick."

* * *

Quinton Andrews will not play this week because of disciplinary reasons. He will be able to play, according to Rodriguez, in the second game of the season at Marshall on Sept. 8. Ryan Mundy will start at free safety with Eric Wicks at bandit. Andrews will likely be the backup bandit for the final 11 games barring unforeseen circumstances, with Boogie Allen, currently listed as the reserve at both bandit and free, manning the free slot with Mundy.


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