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For now, WVU passes on passes

November 26, 2005|By ERIK SCHELZIG

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez insists that it's not that the No. 12 Mountaineers can't pass the football. They're just waiting for someone to force them to.

West Virginia (9-1, 6-0 Big East) ran the ball for 451 yards in Thursday night's 45-13 win over Pittsburgh, but only passed for 41 yards on 10 attempts.

"Believe it or not, we're willing and able to throw it a bunch - if we have to," said Rodriguez.

The Mountaineers, who lead the Big East in rushing, devote half of their practices to the passing game and have more than 20 set passing plays, Rodriguez said. The spread offense and shotgun formations don't preclude passing plays like the wishbone or other systems might, he said.

"We have the capability and the structure to throw it more, and sometime we're going to have to, and we know that," Rodriguez said.

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But for the moment, he said, the team is better at the run. And as long as that's successful, "then let's keep doing that."

The bulk of Thursday night's rushing attack came from two freshman players who have continued to improve as the season has progressed.

Pat White's 220 yards on 23 carries set a Big East single game rushing record for a quarterback, breaking the 210-yard mark set by Virginia Tech's Michael Vick against Boston College in 2000. Running back Steve Slaton added another 179 yards on 34 carries.

"The only thing that's limiting you as a young guy is knowledge, of knowing what the heck to do," said Rodriguez. "And these guys have taken it to heart to learn as quick as they can."

White completed just four passes against Pitt, although he did make a 16-yard pass to Slaton for the opening score. He also threw one interception.

The conditions weren't too bad to pass the ball - indeed, Pitt's Tyler Palko finished with 308 yards on 24 of 43 passing.

"I did not have too much trouble throwing, the ball was not too bad," said White.

But even on passing plays, White said, he was keeping an eye out for running opportunities.

"It's just instinct," he said.

For Slaton, White's rushing skills can almost be distracting.

"Pat is fun to watch, but sometimes you get caught watching and forget to finish your blocks," he said. "He is breathtaking."

The Mountaineers now have a couple days to thaw out from the game that featured a 7-degree wind chill and swirling snow flurries. Next up: a trip to South Florida in what could decide a Bowl Championship Series berth.

South Florida (6-3, 4-1) can force a conference tie by beating Connecticut (4-5, 1-4) on Saturday and West Virginia on Dec. 3. According to Big East rules, head-to-head results determine who gets the BCS berth if there is a tie for the conference title.

"We'd love to see U-Conn win - that way you don't have it all riding on one game," said Rodriguez. "But South Florida is awful talented. I'd be surprised if they don't win the ballgame."

And in the matchup against South Florida, the Mountaineers will face a rushing offense team that in many ways mirrors their own, Rodriguez said.

"Their tailback is one of the best in the country - no question in my mind he's an NFL guy - and maybe the best we've played all year," Rodriguez said.

"Just tackling Andre Hall is going to be the biggest problem in trying to win that game."

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