Big East Battle

West Virginia quarterback Pat White might have seen his chances at winning the Heisman Trophy diminish when he suffered a thigh injury last week. Hours later, the Mountaineers may have watched their national title hopes disappear.

White's status is still uncertain for Saturday, when 13th-ranked West Virginia (4-1, 0-1) will look to bounce back from a loss when they travel to Big East rival Syracuse (1-4, 1-0).

White left Friday's game against South Florida in the second quarter after being hit in the leg by an opponent's helmet while being tackled on an 18-yard run. He limped off the field and remained on the sideline, but did not play again. Coach Rich Rodriguez said he wants White to rest before any decisions are made regarding Saturday, and indicated Tuesday that White, who is taking part in practices, could be a game-time decision.

``If it's (at) noon on Saturday, I'll decide at noon on Saturday,'' Rodriguez said. ``If I decide earlier than that, he won't know until noon on Saturday. And nobody else will, either.''

Oddsmakers from SBG Global  have made West Virginia -26.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game, the over/under has been set at 56 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Syracuse +26.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

White was the Big East's offensive MVP in 2006, when he set a conference record for a quarterback by rushing for 1,219 yards. White scored 18 touchdowns on the ground and also threw for 1,655 yards and 13 touchdowns as West Virginia finished with 11 wins for the second straight season.

Without White last Saturday, however, the Mountaineers' chances of reaching 11 wins again took a hit with a 21-13 defeat. West Virginia committed six turnovers in losing to South Florida for the second consecutive season, with White's backup Jarrett Brown throwing two interceptions.

The Mountaineers have turned the ball over more than six times only once - they had seven giveaways in a 31-7 loss to Syracuse on Nov. 17, 1990.

"It was pretty glaring. We had been pretty good about (avoiding turnovers) for the most part all year and then we had a few bad ones during that game at key times," Rodriguez told the team's official Web site. "It was pretty disappointing but we'll work extra hard on it."

West Virginia entered the game with the nation's second-most productive rushing offense at 357.0 yards per game, but finished with just 188.

"The guys seemed focused. For whatever reason we just did not move the ball well,'' Rodriguez said. ``We're not going to point any fingers. We've got to start playing at a high level again."

A big part of the problem was a sub-par game from Steve Slaton, West Virginia's other Heisman candidate. He ran for only 54 yards on 13 carries - his lowest yardage total in a full game since last year's loss to the Bulls.

Since the beginning of last season, the Mountaineers are 13-1 when Slaton reaches 100 yards, but 2-2 when he's held under the mark.

Slaton ran for 163 yards in West Virginia's 41-17 win over Syracuse on Oct. 14. It was the Mountaineers' fifth straight victory against the Orange, but Syracuse leads the all-time series 30-24, including 17-8 at the Carrier Dome.

Although the Orange have lost four of their five games, the win came against then-No. 18 Louisville, 38-35 on Sept. 22. Syracuse couldn't build on that victory Saturday, though, falling 17-14 to Miami of Ohio.

Andrew Robinson threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but completed only 17 of 36 passes. That was due in part to Syracuse's lack of a running game, as the Orange rushed for just 66 yards last week - a season high.

Syracuse is averaging 40.6 yards on the ground - fewest in the Big East and second-fewest in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"For us to be successful, this football team needs to have balance. ... Unfortunately, we didn't have enough productivity to have a flow and a rhythm," coach Greg Robinson said. "We want to get a running game going, that's the bottom line. And we need to get a running game going."

With the win over Louisville two weeks ago, Syracuse matched its Big East win total over the previous two seasons. The Orange, who lost 13 of 14 conference games in 2005 and '06, haven't been 2-0 in the Big East since 2001.

by: Anthony White - - Email Us

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