WVU rushing tandem ready to rebound
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - They remain best friends, even though quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton might soon compete against each other for the Heisman Trophy running out of the same West Virginia backfield.
And although both sophomores run 40-yard dashes in the exceptional 4.4-second range, they're finding it increasingly difficult to keep ahead of the expectations they've created around the program.
"I think it's kind of normal if you have two exceptional players, that you expect them to be exceptional all the time," Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They're just kids, and they're going to make mistakes at times, and sometimes they don't play their best.
"These guys aren't professionals, and they won't have their best game all the time," the coach said. "But they've played exceptionally all year."
It made sports news across the country when South Florida held White and Slaton to a combined 60 rushing yards in this past Saturday's 24-19 Bulls' Big East victory at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The two Heisman Trophy candidates -- who still average a combined 245 rushing yards per game -- expect another test when visiting No. 13 Rutgers (10-1, 5-1 Big East) challenges No. 15 West Virginia (9-2, 4-2) at 7:45 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
South Florida held Slaton to a long gain of 13 yards, and White to 10 yards. That's normally the warm-up act for the slashing runners who each have four touchdown runs of more than 50 yards, and nine of more than 30, in their careers.
"We let it slip away, but we've got one game left, and we've got to finish strong," Slaton said.
Because of the no-huddle, zone-blocking nature of West Virginia's offense, Rodriguez doesn't buy the notion everybody was standing around in the South Florida loss, waiting for Slaton and White to bust big plays.
"Everybody's got good players," Rodriguez said. "If you don't execute at times, and you could do a better job calling plays at times, it may cost you a game."
Slaton ran for 43 yards on 18 carries against the Bulls, while White gained just 17 yards on the ground and threw two interceptions.
"Usually we start slowly and pick it up, but I didn't feel we'd be slow the whole game," Slaton said. "We just couldn't get it jump-started. I didn't feel they could stop us, not until the fourth quarter."
White and Slaton each lost a fumble near opposite goal lines, which cost the Mountaineers 190 yards in lost field position in a low-scoring game. Slaton lost the ball a yard in front of his own goal line. South Florida defensive end George Selvie returned White's turnover 9 yards for a touchdown.
"We just didn't score touchdowns when we had the ball down there," Rodriguez said. "We just didn't play well. We didn't get it done like we wanted to."
Slaton admits he gains momentum in a game off his quarterback's big plays, but White was slowed due to a turf toe condition he aggravated in the first half, and a sprained ankle in the second.
"They did a great job stopping everything we were trying to execute, but hopefully, this will be the last time," Slaton said.
If Rutgers copies South Florida's defensive plan, the Scarlet Knights will rush their defensive linemen straight up the field without much stunting, to contain White in the pocket, and then assign a quick defensive back to shadow Slaton.
"Rutgers is a very active defense, and they like to blitz," White said. "They're not real big, but they play with a lot of heart and get after you.
"I'm pretty sure they'll watch the (South Florida) film."
Working togetherHere's a list of what West Virginia quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton have accomplished together in less than two seasons:
• 55 rushing touchdowns
• 4,775 rushing yards
• Started previous 16 games together, leading WVU to a 14-2 record, including 9-2 this season, and a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia last season
• Rushed for 78.5 percent of WVU's ground attack this season
• Became only the third teammates in NCAA history to rush for 200 yards in the same game (Pitt, 2006)