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November 1, 2005

Mountaineers get back to business

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West Virginia unexpectedly had last weekend off to savor its stunning comeback victory over Louisville that kept it in first place in the Big East. Now the Mountaineers look to refocus when they host Connecticut in the Huskies' first-ever trip to the state Wednesday night.

The No. 18 Mountaineers (6-1, 3-0) got a school-record six touchdowns from Steve Slaton, all after halftime, and Pat White converted a 2-point conversion pass in the third overtime to lift West Virginia to a 46-44 victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 15.

Needing one more stop for the win, the Mountaineers allowed Michael Bush to score his fourth TD, but WVU's Eric Wicks tackled Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm at the 3 on the 2-point try.

"I just had to stop him," Wicks said. "I guess he had no options, so he tried scrambling. I was surprised that he actually tried to pull it down and run."

The thrilling win kept West Virginia from fallling into a tie with Rutgers and Pitt atop the Big East. With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, the young Mountaineers are eyeing the conference's automatic Bowl Championship Series berth.

West Virginia had to wait a week to continue its push toward that goal, as Saturday's game at South Florida was postponed because of Hurricane Wilma.

"I feel like the more the freshmen help out now, the better we will be later on," said Slaton, a freshman who ran for 139 yards against Rutgers on Oct. 8 before rolling up a season-high 188 yards against Louisville. "We just want the best guys in there. We're just going to get better and better."

West Virginia needs its young players to keep improving, because coach Rich Rodriguez has only 18 seniors on his roster. The passing game has struggled at times because of the team's inexperience, forcing the Mountaineers to rely heavily on the ground game. West Virginia runs the ball 73 percent of the time.

That philosophy worked just fine for White and the Mountaineers against Louisville's respected run defense, however.

"To be honest with you, I felt like I didn't even do anything. I just handed the ball off to Slaton and (Owen) Schmitt," White said.

There's no reason to believe Rodriguez will attempt to go away from that philosophy against UConn (4-3, 1-2), especially after Rutgers rolled up 256 yards on the ground in dealing the Huskies their second straight loss last week, 26-24.

Ryan Hart threw three touchdowns to help the Scarlet Knights end a three-game losing streak to UConn, which was forced to start freshman Dennis Brown at quarterback because of injuries to Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez. The first-year player was mostly overwhelmed by a heavy Rutgers' rush despite throwing for two scores in his first collegiate appearance.

"When you can't stop the run on defense and you commit foolish penalties you are going to make it very, very difficult to win a football game," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "In the second half, they just ran the ball down our throats."

The then-No. 17 Mountaineers beat the Huskies 31-19 in the teams' first meeting last Oct. 13 at Rentschler Field. UConn has yet to defeat a ranked team in five tries.

For more coverage of the West Virginia Mountaineers, check out WVSports.com.

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