Saturday's game against Syracuse will serve as the midway point of West Virginia's 2008 regular season, and as you might expect, the injury list is beginning to lengthen as the season runs its course.
The chief concern on the minds of Mountaineer fans is undoubtedly the health of senior quarterback Patrick White. The electrifying signal-caller has been unable to finish recent home wins over Marshall (thumb) and Rutgers (head), but should be able to make the start Saturday against the Orange.
During his weekly press conference at the Puskar Center, head coach Bill Stewart again stressed that White did not suffer a concussion as a result of his helmet-to-helmet collision with Rutgers linebacker Ryan D'Imperio in the third quarter of Saturday's win over the Scarlet Knights.
"If we played today, we wouldn't want to get hit in the head," Stewart said. "He's going to practice, and he'll be ready to play on Saturday."
The same cannot be said for freshman offensive lineman Josh Jenkins, who left the Rutgers game after injuring his right knee. Jenkins will miss the Syracuse game, but all signs point to a return against Auburn on Thursday, October 24.
"We'll see how well he responds (to treatment)," Stewart said. "Young guys, you never know because (trainer Dave Kerns) has not yet worked with them. He was doing a good job in there, too, and got rolled up on." "He should be fine. I think he will be OK."
On the defensive side of the ball, West Virginia is already without the services of senior linebacker Reed Williams, who will be missing the rest of the season as he continues to recover from offseason surgery to repair tears in both shoulders.
The Mountaineers have also been without the veteran presence of Pat Liebig since the Colorado game. The 25-year old defensive lineman, who sat out the 2007 season to run his family's business in Florida after his father fell ill, won an appeal to retain his final season of eligibility this summer with the NCAA.
Liebig contributed in each of the season's first three games before missing the last two.
"We are waiting on Pat Liebig to be cleared," Stewart explained. "Pat Liebig took a whack. He's getting close, then has a setback. We are hoping so desperately that Pat Liebig can play because the guy needs to play. He came back, did all the right things and it would be a nice storybook finish if he could play."
There may be a sense of déjà vu inside the Puskar Center as the Mountaineers prepare for a one-win opponent for the second consecutive week. Just as Rutgers was struggling mightily with its 1-3 record entering last weekend's game, Syracuse continues to show few signs of life under embattled fourth-year head coach Greg Robinson.
Just because the Orange have struggled does not mean that Stewart and Mountaineers will be going through the motions this week.
"This opponent, like last week and like we were a couple of weeks ago, is in need of a win," Stewart said. "We hope to continue our streak and stop them from starting a streak. That is our goal. I hope we can continue and I hope we can stop them."
The Mountaineers are subscribing to a mindset of this game being the second of the season. West Virginia, which entered the season ranked in the top 10, has long since waved goodbye to its national title dreams for this year. The focus is now on defending the Big East title, and the next step in doing so is defeating Syracuse.
"I asked them what game this was," Stewart recalled. "They said it was game two, so they are getting it. It's game six, but most importantly, it is game two (in Big East play). I'm excited because they are taking them one at a time. I know we are starting to get in the right mind frame."
Many scoffed during preseason camp when Stewart repeatedly said that West Virginia's defense would have to carry the Mountaineers through much of the season as the offense worked out the kinks under first-year coordinator Jeff Mullen.
Five games into the season, though, Stewart's words have proven to be prophetic. West Virginia has not eclipsed the 30-point mark against I-A competition this season.
"People looked at me like I had two heads," Stewart recalled. "Every year I've ever coached, the defense has gelled earlier than the offense. The offenses get better towards the end of the season, for the most part and if the players stay healthy."