Posted: Thursday April 13, 2006 10:15AM; Updated: Friday April 14, 2006 12:02PM
Steve Slaton had a Sugar Bowl-record 204 yards in the Mountaineers' victory.
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Thus, Rodriguez's mantra. "One of the reasons we had so much success last year was the young guys were so hungry to prove themselves," he said. "We need them to stay hungry."
He also needs them to develop some other aspects of their games.
Rodriguez's spread offense has always centered around the running attack, but rarely more so than last season, when West Virginia passed for just 116.5 yards per game, fewer than any team but Rice, which runs the triple option. Opponents will undoubtedly be loading up against the run this fall, making it critical for White, now entering his third year in the program, to become more comfortable as a passer. It should help that White will be working with experienced receivers, including top pass catchers Brandon Myles and Darius Reynaud.
"We have talent there," said Rodriguez. "Now what we're looking for is more big plays."
Defensively, spring has been about finding new playmakers in WVU's most depleted area -- the secondary, where three-year starting safeties Mike Lorello and Jahmile Addae as well as starting cornerbacks Dee McCann and Anthony Mims have graduated. Speed is a necessity in coordinator Jeff Casteel's 4-2-5 defense. To that end, junior cornerback Antonio Lewis, the Mountaineers' top kick returner, and redshirt freshman safety Quinton Andrews will be counted on to play key roles.
"We think we may be able to be a little faster on defense than we were last year," said Rodriguez. "They don't have the experience yet, but they're coming along."
Speed is the operative word around Morgantown these days. Budding friends Slaton and White recently staged a 60-yard race to determine once and for all who is faster. Slaton beat White by one one-hundredth of a second -- 6.32 to 6.33. Will there be a rematch? "Someday," said White.
If the Mountaineers are to adhere to Rodriguez's wishes of staying humble, it will be up to their sophomore stars to set the tone. Both are low-key, soft-spoken individuals who by all accounts handled the hoopla surrounding their rapid ascension last season in stride. The Mountaineers have been under the watchful eye of their coaches since nearly the day they returned from Atlanta, first in winter conditioning and now spring drills, but after Saturday's Gold-Blue Game they face four long months until the start of fall camp. The burden of staying humble and hungry will fall entirely on their shoulders.
"I understand the high expectations, but we still need to be a blue-collar team," said Rodriguez. "Sure, we've got talent, but we're not a team that can go out there, screw up and win. The pressure's on us to approach everything the same way we always have."
The Mountaineers' much-anticipated rematch with Louisville isn't until Nov. 2. There's still plenty of time for the pressure to build.