MORGANTOWN - Doug Rigg should have finished the first game of his junior season fairly well satisfied, and to a certain extent he did.After all, West Virginia's 6-foot-1, 246-pound inside linebacker had a couple of tackles, two assists and was a part of a ridiculously easy opening-game win over Marshall.He even got his hands on the ball, intercepting a tipped Rakeem Cato pass and running 46 yards to the Marshall 3-yard line to set up WVU's 10th touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That one made the score a laughable 69-20.That the Herd scored two late touchdowns to make the final score 69-34 wasn't even that big a deal to Rigg and the Mountaineer defense. After all, isn't there a natural tendency to let up leading by seven touchdowns?
"Yeah, I think so,'' Rigg said. "People started cramping up, too. It was really humid out there. It's not like we gave up, but I think we did take our foot off the gas a little bit."It won't happen again. It was a first-game thing - 'Hey, we're up big.' I think we just let up.''Then why, 30 minutes after the resounding romp, was Rigg sitting in a theater chair in the team's meeting room almost embarrassed by what had just happened?It was because that 46-yard interception return wasn't a 49-yard touchdown.
The fact that Rigg fell short wasn't the issue. It was why he fell short."He did more than tackle me,'' Rigg said, embarrassed but still able to laugh about it. "He slammed me.''Now, had the "he'' been, oh, one of Marshall's four 300-pound offensive lineman, that would have been one thing. Had it been 240-pound tight end Gator Hoskins or 193-pound tailback Travon Van or even 200-pound receiver Aaron Dobson, fine.But it wasn't. The guy who slammed Rigg to the ground was Cato, giving up an inch and 60 pounds to Rigg.
"It actually kind of hurt,'' Rigg said. "I didn't want to tell anybody that, but it hurt.''It's hard to hurt Rigg. Ask pretty much anyone involved with West Virginia's football team and they'll tell you Rigg is the prototype for what they all wish they looked like. The guy is strong and he's cut. His muscles have muscles.Yet there he was, letting Cato toss him around.
"I'm not sure I want to see the film,'' Rigg said, the smile never leaving his face but the absurdity still there. "It had to look pretty bad getting slammed like that.''Of course, if that's the worst thing that happens to Rigg this season, well, he won't complain. After all, he's part of a defense that is basically learning on the job. There's a new scheme, new coaches, new goals and a whole bunch of new players.Take the group that lines up in front of Rigg and the rest of the linebackers, for instance. It took only two series before five different defensive linemen had played the three spots up front. J.B. Lageman and true freshman Christian Brown were subbing up front eight plays into the game. Another true freshman, Kyle Rose, was in there shortly afterward, followed by Korey Harris and Eric Kinsey.In all, 10 defensive linemen played, in part because of the heat and humidity, but in even greater part because the coaches are still trying to figure out who can play.That makes the job of linebackers like Rigg just a bit more complicated."You look up at the guys up front, in front of you, and you know that maybe some guys are going to get into the spot better than others just because they've been there before,'' Rigg said. "You need to know that if there's a young guy up there you might need to pay closer attention. But it's really not a huge drop off. We have a lot of talented people all through the two-deep.''
That's just one of the issues facing West Virginia's defense, of course, and they will all take some time to figure out. Perhaps those matters will be enough to distract everyone from dwelling on what happened to Rigg in the opener."I didn't have enough left in the tank,'' Rigg said. "I would have stepped on him if I'd had a little more left in the tank.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.