|COLLEGE FB NOTEBOOK: Mountaineers' defense stepping into spotlight|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 31 October 2007 10:32|
Pat White, Steve Slaton and West Virginia's high-powered spread offense have garnered most of the attention around the Mountaineers over the past three seasons. Now it seems, the Mountaineers' defense is ready to grab a bit of the spotlight.|
West Virginia pounded Rutgers in a 31-3 victory last week, keeping the Scarlet Knights and running back Ray Rice in check.
The Mountaineers entered a bye week third in the country in total defense. West Virginia is allowing 262.1 yards per game and is ranked in the top 20 nationally in five major defensive categories.
Coach Rich Rodriguez gives some of the credit to senior safety Eric Wicks, whose leadership has helped the unit's younger players adapt quickly to the quirky 3-3-5 defense.
``He's one of the better athletes we have, not just on defense but the entire team,'' Rodriguez said. ``We put him at multiple positions, but we finally left him at one position and now he's getting comfortable with some things we do coverage-wise. He's one of the guys that can make a big play defensively. He's been close a couple of times.''
Rodriguez's defense has at least one admirer in Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe.
Kragthorpe was so impressed with the 3-3-5 that he hired former West Virginia assistant Todd Graham away from the Mountaineers to install the same defense at Tulsa when Kragthorpe became the head coach of the Golden Hurricanes in 2003. Graham succeeded Kragthorpe at Tulsa last spring after spending one year as head coach at Rice.
Kragthorpe and Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm will get a chance to solve the 3-3-5 next Thursday when the Cardinals travel to Morgantown.
REALISTIC RUTGERS: Even with a chance at a conference title likely gone, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano still thinks the Scarlet Knights have goals they can achieve by the end of the season.
``I'm honest with the guys,'' Schiano said. ``I don't want them to sit there and say ``Oh, everything's shot.' I don't really know if we have a realistic chance at the league title with two losses. But certainly there's a ton out there for us to achieve.''
Aside from unbeaten Connecticut and once-beaten West Virginia, every Big East team has two league losses. The conference's second-place team could still garner a prime-time bowl bid. If the Knights win out, they would need a few things to happen, but second place is still possible.
If the Gator Bowl opts to take the Big 12 over the Big East, the conference runner-up would go to the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. Rutgers has been to bowls the past two years after going to just one in its first 136, but the Scarlet Knights have yet to play on New Year's Eve or day.
That should be enough incentive to win the remaining four games, starting with Saturday's game at Connecticut and continuing with games at Army and Louisville sandwiched around a Nov. 17 home game against Pittsburgh.
BELATED BIRTHDAY PRESENT: Louisville running back Brock Bolen's game-winning 1-yard touchdown dive against Pittsburgh on Saturday got the junior off the hook of finding a birthday present for his father Jim.
The younger Bolen always promises to give his father a touchdown on his birthday. It's a gift he began giving as a Pee Wee player, though one he hadn't been able to deliver during his college career until Saturday.
``I was glad to get the ball back,'' Bolen said. ``I always promise him a touchdown and I got him one today, so that was good.''
MAKING CHANGES: Consecutive losses have Cincinnati making some changes.
Coach Brian Kelly used the Bearcats' week off to change starters at a few positions. The most notable switch is at running back.
Senior Butler Benton, who leads Cincinnati in rushing, lost his job because of his costly fumbles in losses to Louisville and Pittsburgh that knocked the Bearcats (6-2) out of the Top 25. Benton has carried 89 times for 434 yards.
Instead, senior Greg Moore and sophomore Jacob Ramsey will split the job on Saturday at No. 20 South Florida. Running back is the Bearcats' deepest position, and all three have played in every game.
``Moore and Ramsey are battling it out this week for the starting position,'' Kelly said. ``Both will play quite a bit. Greg's got a bit of a (sore) knee, so we've had to back him off. Both of those guys we're pushing toward Saturday, and then we'll kind of make that decision.''
YOUNG ORANGE: Syracuse coach Greg Robinson used his team's bye week to give his players some time off. When the Orange returned to practice, many of the younger players were given more chances than usual to make impressions on the coaching staff.
``We did work some of the younger guys a little bit more, even some of the guys that are redshirting,'' Robinson said. ``We got them involved, gave them an opportunity to show what they've got. We practiced on Sunday, and I thought there was a little bounce in our guys, so that's a good thing.
``We worked hard to make sure we got enough done, but at the same time where we feel good coming back. Time will tell what we accomplished.''
The Orange (2-6, 1-2 Big East) travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday hoping to win at least two conference games in the same season for the first time under Robinson.
HONORS: West Virginia quarterback Patrick White's stellar play against Rutgers earned him offensive player of the week honors. White rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown and completed 10 of 16 passes for 144 yards in the victory. It marked the 11th time this season White has topped 100 yards rushing.
Connecticut linebacker Scott Lutrus was named the defensive player of the week for the second straight week for his play in the Huskies' 22-15 win over South Florida. Lutrus had eight tackles and returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown.
West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee was the special teams player of the week after surviving in the rain at Rutgers. McAfee made all four extra points and a 42-yard field goal against the Scarlet Knights and averaged 40 yards on five punts.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati and John Kekis in Syracuse, N.Y. contributed to this report.
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