Rising Challenge

West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez knows that East Carolina will present challenges on several different levels when the Pirates invade Morgantown on Saturday.

"We have to get better, and our guys know that from watching the film," Rodriguez said on Monday. "East Carolina has played us very tough the past couple of years. They are playing greet on defense, and they have found their quarterback. We will take another great shot from them this weekend."

The quarterback is Patrick Pinkney (no relation to the James Pinkney who piloted the Pirates a couple of seasons ago), and he has emerged from a crowded quarterback derby to seize control of the ship.

"I have been really impressed with him," Rodriguez said more than once. I think he has been phenomenal. He was in the mix, he got his opportunity in the first game, and the last two games I think he has been the key to their whole offense. He has run the ball very well. He has made some great passes and is very athletic. When you have a guy that can run and make plays and hit guys right in stride, you have to be sharp defensively. We will have a busy week trying to defend an athletic quarterback that can throw the ball as well as he can.

"They have had so much success throwing the ball, [they didn't really need to run it]," Rodriguez said in reference to ECU's struggles on the ground. "They threw it for 400 yards against North Carolina, and they threw it well last weekend. I'm sure they will spread us out, throw the ball and then run some option. They are doing some of the same things we do."

Pinkney has completed 65 of his 99 pass attempts for 724 yards and five scores against just one interception, and has rushed for 109 yards on 30 attempts. While he doesn't possess the blinding speed of Patrick White, comparisons of the two are valid. Pinkney moves well in the pocket, avoids pressure, and still looks downfield as he buys time, which makes him doubly dangerous.

The freshman isn't the only player WVU has to worry about on offense, however.

"They have fast running backs and an athletic tight end," Rodriguez noted. "They pose a lot of problems, because they are very similar to us in some of the things we do. I see a lot of similarities. They are running some of the same plays we do. I don't know how much that helps us, because we don't tackle Patrick White in practice, but at least they have seen some of that in preseason camp. We go good on good every day in practice, and we might do that a little more this week to get used to their speed.

Finally, the seventh-year head coach is cognizant of the Pirates' defensive success against the Mountaineers.

"They have a lot of good athletes on defense. They have played us as well defensively as anyone the last two years. They have tackled well, and they are very active. We have had a hard time running the ball against them."


Rodriguez continued to voice his displeasure with the consistency of the offense, which has run smoothly at times but fought to find its rhythm at others.

"I wasn't pleased with how we played offensively for at least two quarters of the game," he said. "I thought our execution was poor. On defense we made some plays, and we made a few big plays in the second half."

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Rodriguez on Noel Devine: "I don't know what he's averaging per carry, but I would guess it's up there pretty good," he chuckled. "But we still have to use him the right way. He is still learning. We don't want to give him too much and overload him. But, he is awfully explosive with the ball and each time he has gotten an opportunity he has made the most of it. Our plan is still to give him a little more each practice and each game.

"He is not as fast as Steve, but not a whole lot of people are. He is as quick from 0 to 20 as anyone we have had. And I think sometimes it is hard to see him, he is a small guy, and all of a sudden he is out in the second level."

* * *

No national media opportunity would be complete without at least one more mindless question about the strength of the Big East conference, but Rodriguez handled it without any weariness.

"Coaches like Greg Schiano and I that, have been here for six or seven years, knew we would overcome the rough spot when some of the teams left," he said, perhaps for the one thousandth time. "We knew that if the commitment was made by each institution, we would be ok, and each institution did that. We are not a big [numbers] league, but I think we belong in the discussion of the best conferences in the country.:

* * *

In response to a question about possibly possessing the best running back tandem in the country, Rodriguez was quick to add a third factor into the mix.

"If you are talking about Steve and Noel, our guys are being very productive, but you have to add Owen Schmitt in there as well. He plays tailback and fullback (as well as tight end). We are trying to develop some depth there. With the freshmen, whether its Jock Sanders or Noel, we were hoping they could give us some depth and some production too.

"If a guy is a big guy and you can offset his running with throwing the ball, you can maybe get by with one guy," Rodriguez commented on the need for more than one runner. "But with games crammed in the way they are, with 12 games in 13 weeks, one guy is going to get pounded on pretty good. You will need a second guy -- we found that out last year. And you have to have two guys, not just run it, but to run the entire offense."

* * *

Rodriguez also discussed the evolution of offenses in the face of quickly improving defenses.

"Defenses have become so much more athletic in last 8-10 years. There is so much more team speed that it forces offenses to be more creative. I always say you have to have a system that has built-in answers. If they do this, you do that. Of course, you have to have players. It's always the players first – the Jimmys and the Joes before the Xs and the Os. But if you have a system that has answers for the changes, at least it gives you a shot. It's the coaches' responsibility to put them in position to make plays. And then, if they do something to stop you, you have something else you can do."

* * *

Rodriguez also commented on Johnny Dingle's heightened level of play.

"He has matured. He graduates this year, and we are proud of that. Coach Kirelawich said it's because he cut his hair," Rodriguez joked. "But I think when he saw he was going to graduate, that he was making it academically and getting a degree, that it helped him mature. Being a role model has helped him mature. There's a lot of difference coming in here as a 17 or 18 year old and being a 22 year-old man. Once you've achieved that degree, I think it might take a little of the pressure off.

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