3:30 PM ET, October 20, 2007
MILAN PUSKAR STADIUM, MORGANTOWN, WV
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Quarterback Pat White has been beat up. Running back Steve Slaton is momentarily stuck on mediocrity.
No. 9 West Virginia (5-1) would prefer to get the dangerous backfield duo on track again Saturday against Mississippi State (4-3) in the Mountaineers' first home game in a month.
It hasn't been a healthy season for White, who strained his back on the first day of preseason practice and injured his thigh and his non-throwing (right) shoulder while being tackled in the second half of the past two games, a loss at South Florida and a blowout win at Syracuse. He's had more than a week of rest after a bye week.
"I don't think I've been 100 percent healthy this year," said White, who is 20-3 as a starter. "I just have to be smart about it. If I can't play, I can't play."
Coach Rich Rodriguez isn't going to take a chance at inserting an injured quarterback into the lineup, either. Backup Jarrett Brown would get his second career start if White isn't fully recovered.
The speedy Slaton, who had six games of at least 150 yards rushing a year ago and finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, has seen his production slip.
His top performance this season has been 146 yards at Marshall. He hasn't scored in three games -- still tied with two others with a school-record 42 rushing TDs -- and has been held to less than 70 yards in consecutive games.
"It's only frustrating when we lose," Slaton said. "As long as the points are being scored, as long as we win, it's all that matters."
Last year, Slaton surpassed 20 carries in five of the first six games, including a 33-carry, 203-yard effort against Marshall. In the first half of this season, he's had only two 20-carry games. His carries are down because of the emergence of freshmen backups Noel Devine and Jock Sanders, who have combined for 366 yards on 42 carries this season.
One of Slaton's biggest games came in a 42-14 win at Mississippi State when he had 26 carries for 185 yards and a TD.
"Pat White and Slaton can run with anybody in the country," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. "We're faster than we were last year. We'll find out Saturday if we're fast enough to keep up with them."
While West Virginia has the nation's second-best rushing attack at 311 yards per game, Mississippi State needs to get its passing game going to have a chance at beating its first ranked opponent in four tries this season. The Bulldogs are fifth-worst in the nation, averaging 144 yards passing.
Carroll has fared a little better in one area than Henig and Riddell, who have combined for 11 interceptions. Carroll has completed 54 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions in three starts.
"He is coming along a lot faster than I thought he would," Croom said. "He is throwing the ball so much better. When you bring in a young guy to play, you wonder if they can handle the pressure. Fortunately for us I haven't been able to faze Wes, so I haven't been worried."
West Virginia is at home for the first time since Sept. 22, which frustrates Rodriguez because it means having games at Mountaineer Field more often in cold-weather months. Still, playing before a sellout crowd "should be a great atmosphere," Rodriguez said. "I think our guys are excited to be back home."
And hopefully for them, not overlooking Mississippi State before a key Big East game at Rutgers next week.
"We better not be looking ahead," Rodriguez said. "They're all equally important. If we don't win, we're going to be mad, whether it's conference or nonconference."
Top 25 Overview
West Virginia returns after a bye to face a much-improved Mississippi State team. But the Bulldogs might have to pick up the offense to keep up. MSU is 113th in the country in total offense, while the Mountaineers are 10th.
|Avg Points Allowed||26.6||16.6|