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Rodriguez learned from Round 1

December 31, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It was one of those painful lessons most little boys have to experience in order to grow up.

For West Virginia University, it came on Sept. 20 in an embarrassing 34-7 loss to Maryland.

It was an out-and-out spanking. The Mountaineers were taken behind the proverbial woodshed and were swatted with a switch.

But WVU coach Rich Rodriguez admits his team needed it. Now, he says the Mountaineers might be ready to take the switch away and hit Maryland back at Thursday's Gator Bowl.

"It meant a lot," Rodriguez said. "It just shocked the guys and they grew up. It made them realize that they didn't have to worry about the end result, but to just take it one play at a time. After losing to Maryland, we started to compete better."

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In a word, Maryland manhandled WVU and left the Mountaineers in disarray.

WVU fell to 1-3 after that game as the Terrapins shut down quarterback Rasheed Marshall and his ability to move in the pocket, which in essense turned the Mountaineers' no-huddle offense into a street corner gathering.

Maryland scored all 34 of its points before WVU got on the scoreboard with 4:02 remaining in the game. By then, the game had become a battle of reserves getting playing time.

"We just had one or two guys get lost on every play," Rodriguez said. "We had placement. We were a lot closer to playing well than it seemed. We just didn't execute with all 11 players all the time."

West Virginia went through some changes in the off-week after losing to Maryland.

First, Rodriguez moved Brian King from cornerback to free safety before the Miami game afer Jahmile Addae was injured. He collected 71 of his 108 total tackles since the move to go with six interceptions and 15 pass breakups.

Then, WVU slowed the frantic pace of its offense some, moving its focus away from Marshall's arm to the legs of tailback Quincy Wilson. Wilson rushed for 975 yards and nine touchdowns in his last seven games while Marshall became more lethal, hitting 66 of 128 passes for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in the same span.

In turn, WVU lost its next game, a 22-20 heartbreaker to then No. 2 Miami in front of a national Thursday night audience, before winning its final seven games to close the regular season, win a piece of the Big East title and earn an invitation to the Gator Bowl.

If the Maryland game got WVU on track to the corner, the Miami loss allowed the Mountaineers to turn it. Not only did the two-point loss let WVU prove something to itself, it gave the rest of the nation the blueprint for beating the Hurricanes, who lost twice after the close call.

Still, there is one more score left to settle. The second shot at Maryland, 15 1/2 weeks after the painful lesson, would be the final piece of the puzzle to prove how far the Mountaineers have come.

"We have to put some drives together," Rodriguez said. "We can't have any three-and-outs and we have to get the big plays when they are there. They were the ones getting all the big plays the last time. Our big goal was the (Bowl Championship Series). But this is a Jan. 1 bowl and the Gator Bowl, one of the best there is. That's special."

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