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Rodriguez, Syracuse have eyes on prize

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Last Saturday at home, West Virginia's no-huddle, spread offense steamrolled a bad Rutgers defense. Today on the road at the Carrier Dome, the Mountaineers will see if they can continue that trend against an excellent Syracuse defense.

Kickoff for the Big East clash is set for noon and will be televised locally by WVFX.

The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-3) are in a must-win mode for the remainder of the season if they want to accomplish a winning season and the chance for a bowl bid. First-year coach Rich Rodriguez knows it will be tough, as the Orangemen have their sights on higher goals.

"They're still in the running for a BCS game," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure they will be jacked up and ready to play us."

The 18th-ranked Orangemen (7-2, 3-0) are definitely on a roll, bringing a seven-game winning streak into the contest.

"They are solid in all phases of the game right now," Rodriguez said. "They are playing as well as any team in the country."

Offensively, the Orangemen are led by sophomore quarterback R.J. Anderson. His touchdown pass in the final seconds led Syracuse to a 31-27 upset of WVU last season.

Senior tailback James Mungro (5-10, 212) is third in the Big East in rushing, averaging 95.4 yards per game. He's also scored nine touchdowns.

Fullback Kyle Johnson has averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 34 runs and has two scores, while Anderson has four rushing touchdowns.

Rodriguez expects the Orangemen to try to establish its running game against the WVU defense, ranked first in the nation against the pass, but 109th against the rush (229.5 yards per game).

"We had better stop the run or they might not throw a pass," he said.

When the Orangemen do throw, wide receivers David Tyree, Johnnie Morant and Jamel Riddle will be the likely targets. Both Morant and Riddle average more than 23 yards a catch.

The Mountaineer offense will have to contend with Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney, who leads the nation with 14.5 sacks and has also recorded 22 tackles for loss.

But passing isn't WVU's forte. It's the running of Avon Cobourne that is. The junior tailback is second in the Big East in rushing, averaging 127.9 yards per game.

"We'll have to establish the running game," Cobourne said. "If we do that, then we'll be able to pass and then the running game will open up even more."

Safety Rick Sherrod and linebacker Kyle Kayden key the Mountaineer defense, which has shown improvement the past two weeks.

PRE-GAME NOTES: West Virginia has not won at the Carrier Dome since 1993. ... The Mountaineers haven't beaten a ranked team on the road since 1993, when the unbeaten Mountaineers defeated Boston College with a late rally the last regular season game.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com

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