PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Ray Rice got his yards but Steve Slaton got his touchdowns on Saturday afternoon, scoring three times to lead No. 6 West Virginia to surprisingly easy 31-3 victory over No. 25 Rutgers, wearing all black for the first time.
Slaton got the Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1) on the board early, scoring his first touchdown on a nifty 38 yard cutback run to give West Virginia a 7-0 lead with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter.
After holding Rutgers on their ensuing possession, the Mountaineers faced third and seven at the Rutgers 32 yard line when a Mike Dent shotgun snap sailed over Patrick White’s head resulting in 23 yard loss. Then West Virginia got a huge break when a Pat McAfee punt hit a Scarlet Knight blocker in the back and West Virginia recovered the ball at the Rutgers 31 yard line.
"They do a lot of roll-kicks and we worked all week on not letting that happen to us and it wound up happening to them," West Virginia coach Rodriguez said of the game's first turnover.
From there it took West Virginia just five plays to score with White taking the ball in from a yard out to give WVU a 14-0 lead. The play was reviewed when it looked like White fumbled the ball before crossing the goal line but the play was not overruled because it appeared White recovered the ball in the end zone anyway.
The key play of the first half came late in the second period with Rutgers facing a third and seven at the WVU 22. A Mike Teel pass was pulled in for a split second by Tiquan Underwood but a vicious hit by Ryan Mundy knocked the ball loose for an incomplete pass, forcing RU to settle for Jeremy Ito’s 39-yard field goal to cut the Rutgers deficit to 11, 14-3.
West Virginia was able to tack on three more at the end first half when Pat McAfee’s 42-yard field goal culminated an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ate up the rest of the second quarter.
Rutgers came out of the locker room needing a stop on West Virginia’s opening possession of the second half and that is exactly what it got, holding West Virginia three-and-out series. The Scarlet Knights took over at their own 20 and put an impressive drive together, mostly on the shoulders of Rice. The New Rochelle, N.Y., native gained 49 yards on the drive to help set up a second and one at the Mountaineer 14-yard line.
However a holding call on the next play turned what looked like a certain first and goal for Rutgers into a second and 11. Two incomplete passes later, Rutgers had to settle for an Ito 41-yard field goal try that he missed.
West Virginia inserted the dagger on its next possession. Staring at third and 12, White took another high shotgun snap from Dent, was able to collect himself in the face of an all-out Rutgers blitz, and got a screen pass out in the flat to Slaton.
Slaton behind a convoy raced 51 yards to the Rutgers 27 yard line. Six plays later, Slaton found the end zone for the second time, walking in from a yard to give the Mountaineers a comfortable 24-3 lead with 3:59 left in the third quarter.
White set up Slaton’s final score of the game, racing 50 yards on a second-and-16 play, weaving his way through a tired Rutgers defense all the way to the six. Slaton scored untouched on the very next play to make the final margin 31-3.
"Pat was running the ball very well today," Rodriguez said. "He's such an explosive player and there are a lot of times when he either out-runs the angle or makes somebody miss."
Slaton finished the game with 124 all-purpose yards, carrying 16 times for 73 yards while catching the one pass for 51 yards.
"Part of the games before was (Slaton) wasn't getting his touches and he only had eight touches in the first half today," said Rodriguez. "We tried to get him the ball but it also depends on how they're playing us. Sometimes a run play is called to him but by design in the offense Pat winds up keeping it.
"Steve I thought ran hard and I thought one of the biggest plays of the game was the screen play on third and long down our sideline," Rodriguez said.
As good as Slaton was White was even better, accounting for 300 of the team’s 398 total yards. The Daphne, Ala., native completed 10 of 16 passes for 144 yards while carrying 22 times 156 yards and a touchdown. White averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
"With their explosiveness and with their wide receivers and obviously Teel I wasn't comfortable until the very end," said Rodriguez. "I thought our defense made a few nice plays in the secondary. We got a couple of nice turnovers."
The West Virginia defense played possibly its best game of the year, forcing three turnovers and holding Rutgers without a touchdown. The Knights came into the game averaging 285 yards through the air and the WVU secondary held Rutgers 155 yards below its season average.
Rice got his yards, gaining 142 yards on 30 carries, but Rutgers couldn’t produce much else. The longest play from scrimmage for the Scarlet Knights covered just 16 yards.
Teel, nursing an injured thumb coming into the game, had a tough time completing just 14 of 30 passes for 128 yards while being intercepted twice. Teel was the victim of six dropped passes on the day.
Reed Williams led the way for the Mountaineers defensively, recording 13 tackles. Mortty Ivy was next with 10 stops. Ryan Mundy continued his stellar play, making seven tackles while breaking up a pass and recording a late interception in the end zone.
Rutgers (5-3, 2-2) is the first ranked team the Mountaineers have beaten on the road since defeating Pitt 24-17 at Heinz Field in 2002.
WVU handed Rutgers its worst loss since a 56-5 drubbing by Louisville on Nov. 11, 2005.
"I thought our defensive staff had a really nice plan," Rodriguez said. "I was obviously concerned with Rice and he got his yards and he was hitting us with five-six yards a clip. But there were also many times when he only got two or three yards on first down leaving them second and eight. I thought that was the key - not giving him a bunch of those five-six-yard runs on first down."
West Virginia has now won 13 straight games against the Scarlet Knights dating back to 1994 when Rutgers last beat the Mountaineers. WVU Coach Rich Rodriguez is now 7-0 against Rutgers and its Coach Greg Schiano.
West Virginia returns to action Thursday, Nov. 8, at home against Louisville. Kickoff from Milan Puskar Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
WV - Slaton 38 run (McAfee kick)
WV - White 1 run (McAfee kick)
RU - Ito 39 FG
WV - McAfee 42 FG
WV - Slaton 1 run (McAfee kick)
WV - Slaton 6 run (McAfee kick)
RUSHING: WV - White 22-156, Slaton 16-73, Devine 6-40, Reynaud 1-6, Schmitt 1-2, Total 47-254; RUT - Rice 30-142, Lovelace 7-37, Robinson 2-2, Teel 1-2, Total - 40-183.
PASSING: WV - White 10-16-0-144-0; RUT - Teel 14-30-2-128-0, Lovelace 1-1-0-2-0, Total 15-31-2-130-0.
RECEIVING: WV - Slaton 1-51, Jalloh 4-44, Schmitt 2-32, Reynaud 2-11, Sanders 1-6, Total 10-144; RUT - Underwood 7-59, Britt 2-33, Brown 2-20, Brock 2-10, Rice 1-6, Campbell 1-3, Total 15-130.