Slaton Questionable for the Gator Bowl

Steve Slaton
Steve Slaton

The availability of sophomore running back Steve Slaton for the Gator Bowl was put in more doubt as West Virginia's consensus All-American continues to struggle with a deep thigh bruise he suffered during a practice in Morgantown, W.Va., earlier this month.

Slaton, who rushed for 16 touchdowns and 1,733 yards - a school single-season rushing record - for the Mountaineers this season, was held out of contact drills during the team's two practices in full pads this week. Before Wednesday's final full-contact practice, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez expressed optimism about Slaton's availability.

However, before Thursday's practice at the University of North Florida, Rodriguez said it might be a game-day decision whether Slaton will be able to play.

"He's been limited all week. ... We'll see how he feels at game time," Rodriguez said.

Slaton's injury isn't the only bad news about the Mountaineers' rushing attack.

Second-team tailback Jeremy Bruce, who also plays wide receiver, is doubtful for the game because of a hamstring injury.

That might leave the rushing load to senior Jeremy Colson, who has only six carries this season.

West Virginia ranks second in Division I-A in average yards rushing per game, with 302.3. Slaton averaged 144.4 yards per game. Georgia Tech's defense ranks 11th against the run.

The good news is that the Mountaineers still have a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield in quarterback Patrick White, who gained 1,074 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.

White missed the team's final regular-season game - a 41-39 overtime victory over Rutgers - with an ankle sprain, but will play against Georgia Tech.

Slaton was injured while participating in a non-contact drill. Rodriguez said Slaton slipped, and another player hit Slaton's thigh with his shoulder pad.

"It was a freak thing," Rodriguez said. "He was unlucky."

Slaton gained 1,128 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last year as a freshman, capped by a 204-yard performance against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

This season, Slaton gained 100 or more yards in all but two games and had two 200-yard games.

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said his team would continue to prepare for West Virginia with Slaton at full strength.

"It would change the game tremendously, just like anybody that loses a great football player on a football team anywhere," he said. "But I'll bet you anything that he's well by Monday."