By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
September 17, 2007
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia has been able to run the football effectively on just about everyone since quarterback Patrick White took over the Mountaineer offense as a redshirt freshman in 2005.
However, East Carolina has been the one team that has had consistent success against West Virginia’s rushing attack. Two of West Virginia’s six sub-200-yard rushing efforts have come against the Pirates, including a two-year low of only 127 yards in a 20-15 West Virginia victory in 2005.
Last year, West Virginia needed 216 yards passing from White that also included a fourth-quarter 60-yard touchdown pass to Darius Reynaud to pull out a 27-10 victory in Greenville. The Mountaineers once again failed to run for more than 200 yards against the Pirates finishing the afternoon with only 153 yards on 42 carries.
Is that just a fluke or a trend?
“They’ve probably played us as well defensively the last couple of years as anybody on our schedule,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.
The reason for East Carolina’s defensive success has really been simple: the Pirates have gotten West Virginia’s ball carriers on the ground. It’s not a secret that a good portion of West Virginia’s rushing yards have come on long runs by White and All-American running back Steve Slaton.
This year, the quartet of White, Slaton, Owen Schmitt and freshman Noel Devine have already managed 13 runs of 20 yards or longer totaling 442 yards. Those 13 runs account for nearly 43 percent of West Virginia’s rushing yards so far this season.
What East Carolina has managed to do the last two years is completely eliminate the long runs from West Virginia’s arsenal. In 2005, the Mountaineers had only three carries longer than 10 yards and one of those came on a 20-yard reverse by slot receiver Darius Reynaud.
Last year it was much the same. West Virginia had just six runs covering a distance of more than 10 yards with the longest being a 16-yard gain by Slaton, who finished the game with only 80 yards on 24 carries.
“They’ve tackled well in space,” said Rodriguez of East Carolina’s defense. “They’re very, very active and they pose a lot of problems and we’ve had a hard time running the football against them the last two years.”
In three games so far this year the East Carolina defense has been just as stingy against the run, giving up 33 yards in a road loss to Virginia Tech, 79 yards in a home win against North Carolina and 146 last week against Southern Mississippi. For the year the Pirates are allowing just 86 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry on the ground. The longest run against the ECU defense so far has only been 21 yards.
Fifteen different East Carolina defenders have been involved in negative yardage plays including seven different players having at least one sack.
“I think Coach (Greg) Hudson has done a great job and Skip (Holtz) has got a lot of good athletes over on the defensive side,” Rodriguez said.
Six-two, 220-pound junior linebacker Quentin Cotton leads East Carolina’s defense with 25 tackles, 4 ½ tackles for losses and a sack. Cotton has also intercepted a pass and forced a fumble in three games.
Junior defensive end Zack Slate has also been very active accumulating 19 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for losses and a pair of sacks. The Melbourne, Fla., native has also forced one fumble.
It might be a good idea to keep your eyes on those two this Saturday when West Virginia has the ball.
Defensively, West Virginia has moved up to 33rd in total defense giving up 311 yards per game and 68th in pass defense permitting 203.3 yards per game. The Mountaineers are also ninth in the nation in sacks producing 3.67 per game.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Rodriguez. “He was in the mix but he got his opportunity in the first game and the last two games he has been the key to their entire offense. He’s run the ball very well, he’s made some great passes and he’s very athletic.
“He’s obviously a concern when you’ve got a quarterback that can run and make plays and he obviously has a feel for finding the open guy and hitting him in stride. You’ve got to be sharp defensively,” Rodriguez said.
Seeing an athletic quarterback like Patrick White every day in practice at least gives West Virginia’s defense a look at what they will be facing this Saturday.
“We don’t allow them to tackle Patrick White in practice but at the same time they’ve at least seen some of the plays in preseason camp,” Rodriguez said. “They saw some of them in the spring and we go good-on-good for a little bit every day and we’ll probably do a little more of that this week.”
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