Patrick White and Steve Slaton are givens. Teams seem to have figured the formula for at least slowing the back, if not stopping him. Part of that is West Virginia's line play, part of that is a defense's desire to outnumber WVU at the point of attack. That's fine, until White sneaks out the backside against the flow, or Owen Schmitt gets loose in the flats or, if the run game is somehow bottled, Darius Reynaud exploits single coverage. Such is the Connecticut conundrum as it prepares for what even Edsall is calling the program's biggest game ever.
"It's going to be a difficult challenge against the number three team in the country," said Edsall, in his eighth season at UConn, a fourth-year Division IA program. "They present a lot of challenges up front with a solid offense line, they have a tremendous quarterback in Pat White and all that he can do. He can throw and run with escape ability and speed. The in Steve and Owen you have two guys that are outstanding. Throw Darius in there at wide receiver with what he can do when he touches the ball.
"This is the best team we will play all year. There are so many weapons that Steve doesn't have to be the guy every game. Rich (Rodriguez, WVU's head coach) has so many weapons there, any time a guy touches the ball he can take off and go. They have developed themselves offensively to spread the ball more. They have 11, we have 11. Maybe I can talk Rich into letting me have 12 and play Canadian rules."
Yet the flow and movement of the football always seems to originate, then come back to, White. The quarterback rushed a career-record 27 times last week for 155 yards in West Virginia's 28-23 win at then-No. 22 Cincinnati. White routinely ran for chunks of seven, five and four yards in gashing a UC defense that was allowing no more than 99 yards per game on the ground on average. Rodriguez has found his centerpiece and the player no team has yet stopped. And he has ridden White, utilizing him as much as possible, perhaps to the point of saturation. White is avoiding contact now, not taking the hits he did as a freshman, and is also choosing to run out of bounds more.
He remains the major factor to Connecticut, however. White touches the ball on every play, and so the Huskies are attempting to find a way to contain the junior, then flank out to slow Slaton. That will be easier this season than last, when UConn was a very young team. Now, with another year of experience, Edsall has seen the difference, and it is showing itself in No. 20 Connecticut's 9-2 overall record. It is 5-1 in the Big East and ahead of West Virginia. This is the season finale' for UConn, which can clinch the BCS berth and league title with a win. The Mountaineers can clinch a BCS berth, but must defeat rival Pitt to clinch a second outright championship in three seasons.
"We haven't used any of those things (as motivation)," Edsall said. "All we have tried to do is get better each week. That's the approach we have taken for 11 weeks and that's the approach again this week. We'll work hard in practice and go play the game. We played solid against Syracuse (in a 30-7 win) and did what we had to do. Now we have a very difficult game. But we are a healthier team and a year more experienced. We have had the same 11 starters on defense for every game. We have tried to play hard and not beat ourselves, and so far we have done that."
The West Virginia-UConn contest is being packaged in New England as the school's biggest ever. UConn has never truly competed for a conference title on the Division IA level, and because it is the last game of the regular season, Edsall is selling it as by far the best foe and by far the biggest game.
"I would say that," Edsall said. ". It's the first time we have competed for championship. We have only been in the league for four years. This is a big game, but all the ones before were big games, too, because if we didn't play well there we would not be able to be where we are."