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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My Boy Blue!

My Boy Blue!
By John Antonik for
January 4, 2006

    MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Let us formally introduce Mr. Greg Blue to the backside of Steve Slaton’s football jersey. The University of Georgia’s loquacious free safety said last week that Slaton and his West Virginia University freshman teammate Pat White were going to be “introduced to how we play in the Southeastern Conference.”

    Steve Slaton poses with his MVP trophy after Monday night's 38-35 win over Georiga in the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl.
    All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks

    After watching the Bulldogs play Monday night in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, apparently they don’t play defense very well in the SEC. West Virginia rolled up 382 yards rushing and 502 yards of offense against a Georgia unit nationally ranked in just about every major defensive category. And it was Slaton and White doing most of the damage.

    Slaton blew past Blue twice Monday night for 52-yard touchdown runs to lead the underdog Mountaineers to a 38-35 victory over the No. 8-rated Bulldogs in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On both TD runs Blue had the angle on Slaton and both times the Levittown, Pa., resident turned on the jets and out-legged the all-SEC safety.

    “I just ran away from him,” said West Virginia’s soft-spoken freshman.

    That's Steve Slaton code for “You’re my boy, Blue!” -- Will Ferrell character Frank Ricard's famous cry of agony at the end of the funeral service for geriatric frat-boy Joseph “Blue” Palasky in the classic comedy “Old School.”

    Slaton certainly did his part in putting Greg Blue’s yapper to rest.

    And Steve also did his best impression of Tony Dorsett against Georgia's defense, burning the Blue’s Brothers for 204 yards and breaking Dorsett’s 29-year Sugar Bowl rushing record set in 1977.

    Slaton scored three touchdowns and won the Miller Digby Most Outstanding Player Award. He also scored some points with a nation-wide TV audience. And while people are starting to figure out that there is more to West Virginia’s offense than just smoke and mirrors, Slaton still says his team will take that humungous chip that’s been on their shoulders and lug it with them right into 2006.

    “I still don’t think we get the respect that we need,” he said. “I feel that we’re still going to be a sleeper and I think we’ve just got to keep working hard and this gives us a bit more confidence for each year.”

    Slaton’s freshman teammate Pat White, whom Blue also targeted with pre-game remarks saying “when you see the words ‘freshman’ and ‘quarterback’ your eyes light up,” shared Slaton’s views.

    “(The Sugar Bowl win) gives West Virginia a lot of confidence but I don’t think anybody is still going to give us any respect. We’ve got to start working in the spring again and get ready for next year,” White said.

    As for Mr. Blue, it’s going to take a whole lot more than 38 points and 502 yards of offense to convince him that West Virginia is any good.

    “No, that was just us,” he said. “They’re not top 10.”

    By the way, West Virginia had 202 yards rushing at halftime. Only twice this year did Georgia allow teams to run for more than 200 yards against it – Auburn and Arkansas – and it took them the entire game to accomplish that.

    Bowl Bits ...

  • Is it me or is Coca-Cola to Atlanta what vodka is to Russia? The stuff is practically running out of the fawcetts down there.
  • The scuttlebutt in Atlanta during the week leading up to the game was how poorly West Virginia matched up against Georgia at nearly every position and that the Mountaineers only had a small handful of players on both sides of the ball capable of playing for the Bulldogs. In the end it may have been Rich Rodriguez’ schemes and game planning that caught Georgia’s defense off guard and won the game for West Virginia.

    “There was a lot of confusion,” Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jackson admitted after the game. “We were trying to make adjustments. They jumped on us early, and we were just fighting to get back in it.”

    “We’re not happy,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. “We didn’t play well, and they executed extremely well. They have great players. We said they had a three-headed horse in Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt, and I think that’s what we saw.”

  • West Virginia’s 21-point first quarter was ample proof that Georgia did not take West Virginia seriously. There were other signs during the week in Atlanta. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt allowed a local Atlanta television station to have a comedian come to practice and interview his players. There was no bulletin board material in the comedian’s skit, but it was obvious that the Georgia players and coaches had other things on their minds than just the West Virginia Mountaineers.
  • The hottest topic after the game was Rodriguez’ gutsy decision to call a fake punt on fourth and six at the Georgia 48 with 1:45 left in the game. If Phil Brady turns into Greg Brady and doesn’t get the first down, the Bulldogs only needed a first down or two to get into kicker Brandon Coutu’s range for a game-tying field goal. And the way D.J. Shockley was carving up West Virginia’s secondary it was likely that he would have.

    “We actually almost called (a fake) two times earlier but we didn’t,” said Rodriguez. “I didn’t think it was a manageable fourth down. Both times it was fourth and 15. We called it, if they don’t give it to us, we can go to two other checks, both a regular punt and a roll punt. They came out and gave us the look that we wanted, and our guys executed very well.”

    Rodriguez said wide receivers coach Butch Jones, who coaches the punt team, called for the fake repeatedly during the game.

    “It was kind of a consensus thing,” Rodriguez said. “The coaches in the box said, ‘Hey, let’s do it, it looks like it’s there.’ I talked to our guys – I don’t know what we gained, 10 or 12 – something like that but it was just enough.”

    Georgia defensive ends coach Jon Fabris, who coordinates the Bulldogs punt return team, said they were aware that West Virginia had run fake punts before.

    “I suppose to the typical fan it would look like a wild formation, but that was one of their two favorites,” he said. “I know why some things happened and why they didn’t. It’s just unfortunate, but you have to tip your hat to them.”

    Rodriguez admitted that his decision to roll the dice was as much a feeling that his defense wasn’t going to stop Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley as it was his punter making the fake.

    “Well, that was a tough question that we had a problem stopping them and D.J. was just creating so many plays, scrambling around, making big throws and we could not get pressure on them,” he said. “It was one of those deals where we felt comfortable with our offense, but they are so talented over there and we were really scrambling. Yeah, there was that thought in my mind.”

  • Steve Slaton reached the 1,000-yard mark on just his fourth carry of the game and wound up finishing the season with 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns. Slaton’s rushing total came up 10 yards shy of Avon Cobourne’s freshman rushing record of 1,138 yards set in 1999, but Slaton does have the WVU record for true freshman runners.

    The Mountaineers almost had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history, with quarterback Pat White just falling short with 952 yards. White’s figure broke Major Harris’s 17-year rushing record for quarterbacks with 936 yards gained in 1989.

  • I happened to watch some of the Wisconsin-Auburn game in Georgia’s team hotel (Omni) on the way to the Georgia Dome Monday afternoon and I was struck by how Bulldog fans cheered after every good Wisconsin play.

    There is no ‘kum-ba-ya’ in the SEC. Georgia hates Auburn. Alabama hates Auburn. Tennessee hates Auburn and Auburn hates all three. Same goes for Florida. Now that West Virginia has removed the BCS issue from the Big East, wouldn’t it be nice to get back to hating other teams in the Big East again? Who cares what Connecticut is doing? Who cares about South Florida? You know Louisville has a certain home football date circled on its calander next year.

    And of course there is a certain West Virginia football coach that could never bring himself to cheer for the Pitt Panthers. In fact, he said earlier this year that it would be okay for his son to go and play football for the Panthers if he was ever offered a scholarship. But in doing so his son would have to change his last name.

    Remember, there is no such thing as ‘kum-ba-ya’ in the truly outstanding football conferences.

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