UC visits Glenville in meeting of WVC contenders
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston earned a shiny new national ranking this week, coming in at No. 25 in the AFCA coaches' poll.
If the Golden Eagles want to keep a number to the left of their name, they're possibly going to need to play the best game they've played this season.
UC will travel to Glenville State for a homecoming game against the Pioneers at 1:30 p.m. today.
Glenville (4-4 overall, 4-1 West Virginia Conference) has won two in a row and three out of four and sits tied for second in the league with UC (7-1, 4-1), both teams a half-game behind Shepherd (6-2, 5-1).
The Eagles also enter today's contest hobbling after several players, including quarterback Maurice Leak, were injured in last week's 27-14 win at West Liberty.
"We've got some guys that are beat up," UC coach Pat Kirkland said. "We're going to have some young guys and new faces playing for us, but that's part of the game. We have 90 guys on our team and some of them are going to have to step up."
Backup quarterback John Knox has stepped up repeatedly this season, including in the second half last week as he ran for 48 yards and a touchdown and completed 6 of his 8 passes for 80 yards after Leak left the game. Kirkland said Knox will get the start if Leak can't go today.
Regardless who has been playing quarterback, the UC defense has stepped up all season. The Golden Eagles rank second in the WVC in scoring defense (17.1 points per game) and first in total defense (270 yards per game).
Kirkland believes the UC defense will need to dig even deeper against an explosive Glenville rushing attack that is second in the conference at 167.5 yards per game, ranking only behind UC (236.8).
"We've done a good job all year on playing disciplined, sound defense," Kirkland said. "We've got to continue to do the same thing. It starts up front. I've been extremely impressed with [senior defensive linemen] Jeff Green and Dylan March. They're our leaders on defense and they've done a tremendous job.
"We've got to do a good job against the spread on defense and making plays in space."
Many coaches would shy away from the fact that UC is starting to get a little love on the national level, but Kirkland said he is more worried about the traffic jam atop the WVC standings.
"There's a [virtual] three-way tie for first and you can't hide that stuff from your players," Kirkland said. "They look at it and they know the position we're in. We need to embrace it and be ready against Glenville State, who probably has the best skill-position players on offense that we'll see all year."
Football is played in three phases, and while the West Virginia State offense and defense played up to par against preseason league favorite Shepherd last week, its special teams fell way short of the mark.
The Rams' Keon Robinson ran a punt back 61 yards for a score and a kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown in last week's 41-20 win over the Yellow Jackets. Add in an interception return for a touchdown by Shepherd's De'On Johnson and suddenly that 21-point margin of victory seems a little closer.
But such has been life at West Virginia State as of late. The Jackets (2-6, 1-4) have lost their last three games and six of their last seven heading into today's matchup against West Virginia Wesleyan. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Senior Day in Institute.
"Obviously we want to try to send our seniors out with a win, but we need a win as a team - we need one bad," State coach Earl Monroe said. "This team has been up and down and we've lost some close ones."
Like UC, State is limping into today's game and will have to take on a Wesleyan team (2-6, 1-4) that has also lost three in a row and will be eager to pick up a win.
"They threw it 64 times last week," Monroe said of the Bobcats. "They can throw it around, they're a big-play kind of offense. We're going to try to preach eliminating big plays, make them drive on us.
"Defensively, they bump and run and bring blitzes from everywhere. The challenge that we have will be to protect and recognize blitzes and pick them up so we can give [quarterback] Ricky [Phillips] a chance."
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