Wednesday, September 29, 2004
WVU going with new angle
The Mountaineers plan to avoid the no-respect theme when they play in the evolving rivalry.
Virginia Tech stories
- Hokies start fresh at offense
- Hokies' athletic director requested 'night off'
- Virginia Tech fans need new tailgate tradition
Blog: Andy Bitter
- A few links: Gayle’s a freak, an Arians conversation and a potential ACC bowl lineup
- Lane Stadium video board demolition underway
- After injury-riddled rookie year, Danny Coale hoping for health in second NFL season
- Join the Hokie football conversation on Andy's blog
Twitter: Andy Bitter
Some in the media have questioned just how good the sixth-ranked Mountaineers (4-0) are. The only quality team they have beaten is Maryland. WVU is expected to win the Big East, but some feel the watered-down league no longer deserves its automatic Bowl Championship Series berth now that Miami and Virginia Tech have exited. Rodriguez, whose team visits Tech on Saturday, regrets using the no-respect theme with his players last week.
"We probably talked about it too much, about 'We need to play with a chip on our shoulder to prove everybody [wrong] that's doubting the program, and all the criticism of the schedule,'" Rodriguez said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "I probably made too much of it, trying to motivate them. ... That strategy I used didn't work.
"I'm smart enough to figure out if that strategy didn't work, I'll try to find something else."
Rodriguez didn't like his team's focus in last weekend's 45-10 win over Division I-AA James Madison. So he reversed course when addressing his players this week.
"I said, 'Listen, I can't stop you from buying a newspaper or getting on the Internet, but I prefer that you not look into anything of that [sort]. Don't worry about what people are saying,'" said Rodriguez, in his fourth year at his alma mater. "We can't control what other people say. We can control what we do."
The Mountaineers are led by senior quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who ranks ninth in Division I-A in passing efficiency. Marshall has completed 47 of 75 passes (62.7 percent) for 684 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. He completed only 50.7 percent of his passes last year, when he threw for 1,729 yards.
"He's better now than he's ever been because he's trusting the offense more, he's trusting what he sees more," Rodriguez said. "He has a better grasp now of how teams are defending him."
Like Tech counterpart Bryan Randall, Marshall is also a threat when he runs. With 1,334 career rushing yards, including 155 this year, Marshall needs 228 more to surpass Donovan McNabb's Big East record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Marshall is "usually pretty quick when pressure comes at taking off," Rodriguez said. "What we've tried to do is have him step up when pressure comes from the outside, then look to throw and then take off. I tell him after he steps up, if it's open, go ahead and take off because he's a weapon when he runs in the open field."
The ground game features senior Kay-Jay Harris, who ran for a Big East-record 337 yards in the opener against East Carolina.
Harris said he hasn't felt 100 percent since suffering a strained hamstring early in the second game, at Central Florida. He ranks eighth nationally with an average of 137.3 yards rushing, despite running for only 63 yards on 22 carries against JMU. Rodriguez expects Harris to be better physically Saturday, although he doesn't know if Harris will be 100 percent.
WVU ranks ninth in I-A in scoring (41 ppg) and rushing (276 ypg).
"We've got to be able to run the football if we want to have any success," Rodriguez said Tuesday.
Rodriguez said WVU's top priority defensively is stopping Tech's running game. He also is worried about Randall.
"The quarterback is the key in any offense, but especially for them," he said. "He's hurt us in the past with option. He's hurt us with throwing the football. He's hurt us a lot of times scrambling."
Rodriguez knows his charges will hear from "hostile" Tech fans at Lane Stadium.
"There's so much passion about the game. Our guys know they're going to get booed and they know they're going to get people yelling at them," Rodriguez said after practice Monday. "We've got to be able to handle it."
Adding to the traditional rivalry this year is the fact that Tech has left the Big East for the ACC - and that this time WVU will be the ranked team in the duel.
Last year, the Mountaineers upset third-ranked Tech 28-7 for the biggest win in their history. Two years ago, WVU upset No.12 Tech 21-18 for its first road win over a ranked foe since 1993.
"It's an interesting storyline. I'd be lying if I said if it wasn't," Rodriguez said. "But a lot of that other stuff - the ACC-Big East thing, their ranking last year, our ranking this year, a lot of that's really irrelevant."Chance for perfection? If West Virginia beats Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Mountaineers have a good chance to finish the regular season unbeaten:Sept. 4 WVU 56, ECU 23Sept. 11 WVU 45, UCF 20Sept. 18 WVU 19, Maryland 16, OTSept. 25 WVU 45, JMU 10Saturday at Virginia Tech (noon, ESPN)Oct. 13 at UConnOct. 21 SyracuseOct. 30 at RutgersNov. 6 TempleNov. 13 Boston CollegeNov. 25 at Pittsburgh