"Rutgers is playing very good football right now, and our guys have a lot of respect for their program," Rodriguez said one day after WVU's homecoming win over the Bulldogs. "They have a lot of explosive players – it's not just Ray Rice. Their wide receivers are some of the most explosive in the Big East conference, and [quarterback] Mike Teel is a veteran guy who is accurate. He's done a lot of things to help them win games. Their wideouts are scary. They did a lot of good things against us last year. Rice is a strong guy. He may not be the tallest guy, but he's strong, built low to the ground, and he knows how to take on tacklers. He is built to have a lot of carries. I'll be surprised if they don't give it to him a bunch of times against us."
Rodriguez also commented on the Slaton-Rice matchup, which he correctly noted really isn't a matchup at all.
"It's not Ray Rice against Steve Slaton, because neither one of them play defense. A lot of times I think too much is made of this guy vs. that guy. They are going against other guys, not each other, so I don't know if the comparison is fair to either guy. Rice is one of the great players in the country, and we think Steve is one of the best as well. It should be fun to watch."
With both teams facing defenses stacked to stop their star runners, it might be expected that West Virginia could learn from what other teams have done to try to slow Rice, just as other schools might be expected to intensify their film study for clues on slowing Slaton. However, differences in offensive and defensive schemes employed by the schools limit the effectiveness of such tactics.
"It's a question of different systems," Rodriguez explained. "The way people have defended us, whether it was Steve or Quincy Wilson or Kay Jay Harris or Avon Cobourne, it was a matter of coming up with different answers in different systems. Rutgers has done a good job in throwing the football – that's been one of their answers to try to loosen things up. We try to do things with Owen [Schmitt] or Pat. But I'm sure we have kind of gone through the same things, where everyone tries to stop your key running back."
Rodriguez also knows West Virginia will face a different environment than on previous trips to Rutgers.
"I am sure it is a tougher to play now. They have added seats, and the game is sold out. They are getting passionate about their program, and it should make for a great atmosphere."
West Virginia again hits the road for the game against Rutgers, the fifth time in eight games that the Mountaineers will be away from home this year.
"Most coaches would rather balance it out, and not be at home or on the road all the time." Rodriguez noted. "The only complaint I have is that I would like to have some Big East home games in October when weather is decent. Ours are in November. It seems like we have been on the road quite a bit, but it's our job to keep their fans out of the game. We've mentioned the schedule to the league a couple of times, and it has happened like this a couple of years in a row now. We know there are a lot of dynamics involved with TV and non conference dates and things like that, but we are hoping next year to have a little more balance."
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West Virginia is sixth in the most recent edition of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.
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Rutgers' use of trick plays was integral in its upset of South Florida on Thursday night, and Rodriguez certainly isn't unfamiliar with their use either.
"Every coach has them, and there's a risk involved anytime you call them. I don't think you just use them in big games, but they are noticed more if they work in big games," Rodriguez noted, having experienced success with a fake punt in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. "If you run them once, it is harder to run them again, but I'm sure they have some more. We have a handful too. I think you want to run a trick play off something you do normally, or something you have repped or when you see the right opportunity."
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"I think he will be better this week," Rodriguez noted. "He had some pain during the game, because he didn't take a shot or anything. We chose to keep him out. Last week he was limited in practice, but should be able to do more in tonight's practice."
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WVU was fired up for its first home appearance in nearly a month, and got some early breaks that helped build its big 31-0 lead.
"We got lucky with the penalty and a couple of fumbles that bounced in our hands, but we hadn't played in two weeks or been home in a month," Rodriguez noted. "I wish we could have kept [that up], but we got the win. I'm happy with any win."
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West Virginia's best overall performance to date remains the East Carolina game, but Rodriguez also pointed to stretches in other contests where WVU clicked in all phases.
"For four quarters, the ECU game was probably the best we have played. But at times, in the Maryland game and the Mississippi State game, our execution was excellent. But at other times in those games, we didn't play as well. Again, all of that is kind of in the past. We're just trying to get better each play. If you want to have great success at the end of the year, you have to have great focus and do that. That's our goal."