By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
October 8, 2005
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Freshman Steve Slaton ran for 139 yards and scored a touchdown to lead West Virginia to a 27-14 victory over Rutgers Saturday afternoon at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
Slaton, making his first college start, also caught three passes for 35 yards to finish the afternoon with 174 all-purpose yards.
“He’s getting better every week,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. “He’s learning the holes and how we’re blocking things. He’s got a burst and that’s the one thing he gives us. He sees a little bit of a crease and he can get up in there.
“He was really close to breaking a lot of long runs,” Rodriguez said.
Mountaineer quarterback Adam Bednarik was efficient throwing the football once again, completing nine of 10 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in constant rain that was heavy at times. Bednarik came into the game completing 77.1 percent of his passes. Because they were so effective running the ball, the Mountaineers only had to try 11 passes for the game.
“We were a little more conservative and I think both teams were,” said Rodriguez. “They ran the ball a lot more and it’s hard to throw a wet ball and it’s also hard to catch a wet ball. We were actually planning on throwing a little bit because we were going to get a lot of man coverage and we hit a couple of passes but we didn’t open it up much. Thankfully we were getting some key runs that kept some drives going.”
Freshman Jason Gwaltney ran six times for 57 yards but was helped off the field after the game when he suffered a helmet to his knee on a third-down carry in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Jason Gwaltney ran well and unfortunately he got hurt at the end of the game and he may be out for a few weeks,” Rodriguez revealed.
Rodriguez said after the game that the team trainers told him it might be an MCL sprain. “They were tackling low and they got him on the knee,” he said.
The Mountaineers had 236 yards rushing and 314 yards of total offense. Rutgers, which came into the game ranked second in the Big East in total offense averaging 407 yards per game, managed 295 yards against West Virginia’s eighth-ranked defense.
Four Rutgers turnovers including two fourth-quarter interceptions by WVU defensive back Dee McCann sealed the game for the Mountaineers, now 5-1 and 2-0 in Big East play.
West Virginia got an outstanding special-teams play from senior Thandi Smith to get on the scoreboard first. Smith took advantage of an opening in Rutgers’ blocking scheme to block Joe Radigan’s punt. Smith also recovered the ball in the end zone to give WVU a 7-0 first-quarter lead. It was Smith’s third punt block of his career.
“We thought coming in that we had a chance to block a punt because they were a little slow getting punts off,” Rodriguez admitted. “Thandi Smith and Charles Pugh have done a good job working the edge and Thandi made a great move inside. I thought that punt (block) and our punt team may have been the two biggest things to the game.
”They’ve got a dangerous returner (Willie Foster) and we tried some different things,” Rodriguez added. “Phil Brady’s roll punts today were outstanding.”
The Mountaineers were able to turn a Ray Rice fumble into another touchdown when Steve Slaton out-ran the Rutgers defense to the corner and bulled his way past the goal line for an 11-yard touchdown – the first of his college career. Linebacker Marc Magro caused Rice’s fumble and Boo McLee was able to recover it. It was the first lost fumble for Rutgers this season.
“In a game like this with it being as wet as it was you’d expect both teams to have a few more turnovers and we didn’t have any,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t drop the ball on the ground at all and that’s something special when you’ve got freshmen and first-year players out there.”
With 7:57 left in the second quarter, West Virginia overcame a holding penalty on freshman guard Ryan Stancheck on a Bednarik touchdown run to cross the goal line once again. On the very next play, Bednarik was able to take advantage of single coverage on Brandon Myles to convert a 21-yard touchdown pass to give the Mountaineers a 21-0 lead.
“He was getting some press coverage and we felt that we had to take a shot,” Rodriguez said. “Brandon made a nice move and it was a good throw. That was a key play because we had just gotten a penalty to take away a touchdown and we came right back and got it again.”
Rutgers, with freshman Mike Teel working under center, was able to grind out a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ate 6:51 off the clock to get on the board right before the end of the half. The Scarlet Knights mixed Brian Leonard runs with some crisp Teel passes over the middle to move the ball on the Mountaineer defense. Rutgers eventually got into the end zone on third and goal when Leonard bulled his way in from the one.
In the second half, West Virginia was able to sandwich two Pat McAfee field goals between another Leonard third-quarter touchdown run.
After McAfee’s career-best 45-yard field goal opened the third quarter for West Virginia, the Scarlet Knights (3-2, 1-1) pulled to within 10 on a time-consuming 15-play, 66-yard drive that ended with another Leonard short score on fourth and goal.
The Mountaineers were able to regain control of the game with 9:12 left, driving 68 yards and eating five minutes off the clock to get McAfee into position to convert his second field goal. Gwaltney ran for 24 yards on a third and one play to move the ball to the West Virginia 47, and two plays later Slaton broke free of the line and ran 33 yards to the Rutgers 22.
Slaton’s 139 yards were the ninth straight time a West Virginia back has rushed for more than 100 yards against Rutgers beginning with Amos Zereoue’s 103 yards in 1997. The Mountaineers have now won 11 straight games against Rutgers dating back to 1995. WVU has also won its fifth Big East road decision in its last six games dating back to 2003.
“It’s a funny team because even though they’re young they’re real serious about their job and sometimes I worry are they just sleep walking? But they stayed pretty focused and they played hard,” said Rodriguez.
Rutgers used quarterbacks Ryan Hart and Mike Teel and the two combined to complete 18 of 31 passes for 171 yards. Leonard ran 23 times for 76 yards and caught four passes for 15 yards.
“They throw a lot at you and they’re very multidimensional on offense,” Rodriguez said. “I thought our guys did a really good job defending the pass and making them dink and dunk a little bit more.
“I was really upset that they had some long drives and were able to run the football when we knew they were going to run it, but our guys kept contain and didn’t give up any big plays,” Rodriguez said.
West Virginia returns to Morgantown for a key Big East clash against No. 23-ranked Louisville. That contest has been moved to 3:30 pm to accommodate ABC television.
Rutgers plays at Syracuse next Saturday.
WV – Smith 1 punt return (McAfee kick)
Rushing: WV – Slaton 25-139, Gwaltney 6-57, Bednarik 7-26, Schmitt 2-16, Reynaud 1-1, White 2-minus 3, Total 43-236; RU – Leonard 23-76, Underwood 8-37, Hart 4-18, Rice 4-0, Teel 1-minus 7, Total 40-124.
Passing: WV – Bednarik 9-10-0-78-1, White 0-1-0-0-0, Total 9-11-0-78-1; RU – Hart 9-16-1-66-0, Teel 9-15-2-105-0, Total 18-31-3-171-0.
Receiving: WV – Slaton 3-35, Schmitt 3-13, Myles 2-26, Bailey 1-4, Total 9-78; RU – Harris 4-53, Moses 4-34, Leonard 4-15, Tucker 2-24, Rice 2-11, Foster 1-20, Underwood 1-14, Total 18-171.
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