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WVC football: UC trying to prepare offense for anything

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston offense averaged 38.5 points in non-West Virginia Conference victories over Shaw  (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) and St. Joseph's (Great Lakes Valley Conference) doing what they do best: running the ball.

Even after All-Conference running back Jordan Roberts left in the second quarter because of a viral illness, UC had 195 yards on 29 carries in a 33-14 win over the Pumas.

However, junior quarterback Maurice Leak and redshirt freshman John Knox know that will take the Golden Eagles (2-0) only so far.

That's why they're sharpening the UC passing game for a WVC schedule that begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Concord (1-1).

"Teams are going to load the box on us," said Leak, who suffered a high ankle sprain in UC's 33-14 win over St. Joseph's (Ind.) and isn't expected to play on Saturday. "We have a great running game, so we have to implement the play-action pass. We come out every day and try to get as many reps as we can with the vertical passing game. Both of us were running quarterbacks in high school, so we just have to get reps."

Last season, Leak completed 51.2 percent of his passes for 1,295 yards with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Through less than five quarters this season, he was 12-of-24 for 155 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Enter Knox, who finished the game and was 5-of-12 for 145 yards with two scores and no picks. However, 99 of those yards came against an overly aggressive St. Joseph's defense that resulted in a record-breaking catch-and-run from redshirt freshman Shaquille Williams. Otherwise, Knox was 4-of-11 for 56 yards.

Neither quarterback wants to run the ball for two downs and throw deep on the third as the Golden Eagles seek their seventh consecutive regular-season victory.

"You have to hit the midrange, because if you just throw bomb after bomb, the defense will start cover 2 man, then load the box still," Knox said. "If you go midrange, that spreads it out and now the defense has to play equal, rather than just load the box or dropping everybody back in coverage."

Leak said the passing game is still a work in progress.

"We try to be versatile," Leak said. "Last year and so far this year, we really haven't had the best passing game. We try to be versatile. We don't wants teams dropping the safety deep to cover the bomb and have everybody in the box.

"We try to get the regular dropback game in as much as we can. We go RVAs (routs versus air) 20 or 25 minutes every practice, receivers and quarterbacks working on timing, no DBs."

Knox said the offense has worked overtime on the passing game.

"We pass way more in practice, I would say," Knox said. "Each quarterback throws 100 passes a day in practice. We just take reps."

Coach Pat Kirkland and offensive coordinator Jason Vrable won't abandon the running game that has averaged 291 yards per game during its winning streak.

Roberts is expected to play on Saturday, although Kirkland is trying to limit his time in practice to keep him fresh. Even without Roberts' production, UC is averaging 5.5 yards per carry behind C.J. Stallworth, Darrell Byrd, Dustin Phelps, Taylor Franz, Reggie Dillingham and Terrance Brownlee.

"If they're not stopping the run, we're not going to stop running it," Kirkland said. "There's a lot of merit in possession and possession time with the football. When you're running it and physically pounding a team like we have, I think that's a positive.

"We have two or three other guys we can put back there at the tailback position we feel good about."

*  *  *

THE CAREER of Concord quarterback Zack Grossi has ended after he suffered serious injuries in a two-vehicle accident on Tuesday.

According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Concord Coach Garin Justice confirmed that Grossi's playing career is over, although the native of Odessa, Fla., will be at Saturday's game and assist the team on the sideline.

"That's unfortunate," Kirkland said. "I feel badly for him and his family to get hurt the way he did."

Grossi has been Concord's starting quarterback for most of his career, winning the job as a freshman. However, he suffered a season-ending injury early in the third quarter of his third career game and missed the final eight contests in 2009.

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Grossi has attempted all but 26 of Concord's passes, going 485-of-822 for 6,268 yards with 48 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

*  *  *

RIGHT TACKLE Justin Johnson, one of the UC's "best lineman," was lost for the season when he suffered a broken fibula in the win over St. Joseph's.

"I'm really upset and disappointed for him," Kirkland said. "It's tough because he worked so hard to get to that point. Those front five guys meshed so well. Everybody says, 'Oh, the running game,' but the holes were there because they were blocking their tail off."

Kirkland hopes that Johnson, who wears the same number (77) as his brother Josh Jenkins does at WVU, will receive a medical redshirt after playing just a little more than one game.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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