by Greg Talkington
To most college football observers, losing a quarterback, tailback or play-making linebacker would be devastating to most teams.
For West Virginia, it's been the loss of a long snapper for punts that has affected the team most.
The Mountaineers recruited B.J. Coonfield out of junior college exclusively for that job. But an injury has hindered him and tight end Steve Terlesky has served in his stead.
Terlesky has struggled with his snap efficiency throughout, and that came to a head Thursday at Temple when a bad snap resulted in a 4-yard punt.
"We're going to change our snapper this week because we have to do it," WVU coach Don Nehlen said Monday during the Big East coaches conference call. "We recruited a J.C. kid to do it, and he came in and did well the last part of the Temple game.
"He was slowed a bit by injury, but it's his job now."
West Virginia's punt return team has also struggled, as it committed two turnovers in the Temple game.
"When a ball is bouncing, especially on turf, you don't know where it's going to go," Nehlen said. "But our kid back there (Antonio Brown) has to fair catch those punts and get those guys out of there."
Those two miscues set up 10 points for the Owls in WVU's 29-24 victory.
One of the league's heavyweights will have a chance to earn the Big East some respect Saturday when seventh-ranked Miami (3-1, 2-0) hosts No. 1 Florida State (5-0).
Kickoff at the Orange Bowl is set for noon and the game will be televised nationally by CBS.
For Miami coach Butch Davis, it's a chance to see just how far his program has come.
"Florida State is clearly one of the best, if not the best team we will play all year," Davis said. "They haven't changed much over the past 15 years.
"They have a great quarterback (Chris Weinke) whose experience doesn't give you the luxury of trying to rattle or confuse him."
Weinke and his array of talented and speedy receivers will serve as a big test for Miami's ultra-talented secondary.
"We knew each one of those guys were quick, strong tacklers and good cover guys," Davis said. "But I think the thing that makes them really special now is the fact that they've played together as a unit for 15-to-18 games now.
"The communication back there is great. Sometimes, it doesn't have to be verbal as just a head nod or glance is enough to know what they're going to do."
While both teams feature great defenses, it's the offensive numbers that are staggering coming into the game.
Miami is second in the nation in scoring offense at 50.2 points a game while FSU is seventh (41.6). The Seminoles are first in total offense (514.6) while the Hurricanes are fourth (486.2).
"It should be a one heck of a game," Davis said.
While Miami holds center stage this week in the league, the most important league game will take place in the Carrier Dome, where Syracuse plays host to Pittsburgh in an ESPN 2 telecast slated for a 4:30 kickoff.
The unbeaten Panthers (4-0, 1-0) are trying to make a move into the upper division of the league while the Orangemen are trying not to slip from it.
"Their offense got untracked against Brigham Young and their execution in that game was scary," Pitt coach Walt Harris said. "They've been an upper division team in our league and have beaten us three straight years.
"So this will be great challenge for us."
The contest will be the first league game for the Orangemen, who finished the non-league portion of their schedule with a disappointing 2-2 mark.
"They're unbeaten and beat Penn State convincingly," SU coach Paul Pasqualoni said of the Panthers. "They have one of the top defenses in the country.
"This will be a big challenge for our players."
Pasqualoni was excited about the play of his quarterback, Troy Nunes, during SU's easy win over BYU Saturday night.
"That was about the best half I've ever seen here by a quarterback and that includes Donovan McNabb," Pasqualoni said. "Troy is extremely intelligent and a real technician out there and his efficiency was just tremendous, especially in the first half."
n In other league games this week: Third-ranked Virginia Tech (4-0, 2-0) plays host to Temple (3-2, 0-1); West Virginia (3-1, 2-1) is home against Idaho (2-3) and Boston College (2-2, 0-2) plays host to Connecticut (2-3).
Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.