A New Standard
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 3, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A few years ago former West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall remembers being asked by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter who he thought was going to be the Mountaineers’ quarterback of the future.
Marshall, polite, courteous and politically correct as they come, didn’t hesitate to give his answer: Pat White.
“I used to check him out during practice,” Marshall said. “He was a young guy at the time but I would see the things that he does in practice and I would say to myself, ‘He’s going to be the real deal.’”
Yes, indeed, Pat White is the real deal.
Thirty two wins, three New Year’s Day bowl victories, three top 10 finishes and nearly 4,400 rushing yards later, White has set a new standard for quarterbacks at West Virginia University.
“He’s an unusual kid,” said Fred Wyant, who quarterbacked the Mountaineers to a 30-4 record as a starting quarterback from 1952-55. “He’s a flyer.”
“He plays a game that none of the others have ever played here,” said Mike Sherwood, the school’s first 400-yard passer in a game against Pitt in 1968. “He’s one of the guys when you watch him play you kind of always think you’ve seen it all and then you see something else that he does. You are thinking how did he do that?”
Oliver Luck, the quarterback who helped turn around a losing program in the early 1980s, says the epitaph on Pat White’s West Virginia career will consist of a single word: winner.
“That’s the ultimate measure at the end of the day,” Luck said. “That’s all that matters. Statistics are nice and he certainly has put up some unbelievable numbers but the most impressive number is the number of wins he’s had as a quarterback.”
Although he played in a different era, Fred Wyant possessed many of the same qualities White had. Wyant admits the difference, however, is that he was surrounded by all-pro talent like Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Joe Marconi and Chuck Howley. Wyant isn’t sure White has benefited from having that many super high-quality players around him during his WVU career.
“When I played, we had six or seven guys that maybe gained between 150 and 300 yards and we all alternated,” Wyant explained. “I always figured that in Pat’s case he’s almost got to gain a minimum of 200 yards himself for them to have a chance. I knew that all I had to do was to be able to gain - passing and running - about 100 yards and I knew we would win.”
Mike Sherwood was another big winner for the Mountaineers, guiding West Virginia to records of 7-3, 10-1 and 8-3 during his three varsity seasons from 1968-70. Sherwood believes being a winning quarterback is usually a combination of two things.
“When guys have confidence in you then it’s easy for them to follow but at the same time I think it goes both ways,” he said. “If you look at all of the winning quarterbacks - look at some of the people that played with Fred and you look at some of the guys that played with me: Jim Braxton, Bobby Gresham, Eddie Williams, Oscar Patrick, Carl Crennel … there were a lot of really good football players there. They follow you and you follow them because each has confidence in the other.”
What are the qualities that make up a great quarterback? Wyant believes the great quarterbacks have to be charismatic leaders that can motivate their teammates.
“It’s important that you show by example,” Wyant said. “You have to get up off the ground if you’re hurt because they’re all watching you. If they see you do it then your teammates will make an effort above and beyond the call of duty.”
Rasheed Marshall said the most successful quarterbacks he’s seen are the ones willing to put in the time when no one else is watching.
“I can tell you through experience that you have to make a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “I can remember being at school and guys going out and partying and sometimes you have to give that up. That plays a part.”
Sherwood thinks White’s toughness is his most impressive trait. “I have always admired his toughness and he’s obviously a great leader,” Sherwood said.
“Pat is more fearless than I was,” Marshall admitted. “I see him kind of throwing his body around out there and I’m like cringing watching it. Sometimes I would rather see him protect himself more than he does but he obviously knows what he’s doing.”
“The thing that has allowed him to play four years without any real injuries is you don’t get a real good hit on him,” Luck said. “He’s got a great sense of making sure he’s always moving in the pocket. As a result you rarely see someone get a good, direct hit on Pat whether he’s in the pocket or running around.”
Marshall marvels at how well White has been able to preserve himself at the end of the year despite the physical toll the spread offense puts on a quarterback.
“Doing as much running as the quarterbacks do in this offense you’re going to get beat up,” Marshall said. “I kind of got pretty good at trying to twist my shoulders a little bit to protect myself from receiving a full blow. I see Pat doing that.
“When I was going down I tried to land on my back so that I didn’t land with a hand down or something like that,” Marshall said. “I learned the hard way because I broke my wrist putting my hand down in a game against BC.”
Perhaps even more so than professional football where system quarterbacks on occasion have won Super Bowls, college football is primarily a quarterback-driven game. If you have a good quarterback then you have a chance to win. So-so quarterbacks usually produce so-so results.
“You’re one of two guys on the field that has the ball in your hands on every play and the other guy is the center and he doesn’t get to do much about it,” Sherwood said.
The spread offense has made the quarterback position even more critical, bringing back the days of the single wing when the ball was snapped to the best athlete on the field and he either ran it, passed it, or kicked it.
“They were doing this in the 1920s,” Wyant said. “It’s the split-T option we ran in the 1950s without him being under center. He runs it from back there because they want him to do more things.”
“If you hear them all talk about it they only run two or three blocking schemes with it,” Sherwood said. “It’s not incredibly complicated.”
Luck believes the key to having a great spread offense is not only having a good quarterback, but also having legitimate game breakers on the outside and at running back between the tackles that defenses must respect and account for.
“You have to have outside guys that can take a bubble screen and all the other stuff and make something happen. You’re not going to throw five quick slants on the drive,” Luck said. “You’ve got to have guys that can catch that four yard pass, make a move, and pick up 30 more or go for 60.”
West Virginia has had some of those type players surrounding White. The Mountaineers won 33 of 38 games from 2005-07 with White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt giving them a triple-headed threat in the backfield. And Darius Reynaud on the outside usually kept defensive ends, linebackers and safeties occupied.
When Rasheed Marshall played in this offense he had Chris Henry out wide to keep safeties honest. Safeties couldn’t cheat down to help the running game because of the threat of Henry catching a deep pass over the top. From the games he’s seen this year, Marshall isn’t sure opposing defenses are fully respecting the other parts of West Virginia’s offense as they have done in the past. Consequently, Pat White has been confronted with defenses geared up solely to stop him.
“In this system the running back helps the quarterback out so that defenses can’t key on one guy in the backfield,” Marshall said. “Secondly, the receivers have to come through and make plays to keep the defense honest and not put an extra guy or two in the box. You’re going to need that one receiver, possibly two, to come through for you and make plays.”
And when defenses don’t respect those other elements?
“It’s almost impossible for you to do anything,” Marshall explained. “If you’ve got nine guys, as Coach Stew would say, with their ears pinned back ready to tee off on you with no other responsibilities to worry about then it’s really difficult.
“If I was calling defenses all I would do is always key on Pat,” Marshall added.
“They don’t have Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt and I said from the very beginning that they don’t have all the players to do what they want to do,” Fred Wyant said. “If they had Slaton and Schmitt this year – with the new coaches and everything – it makes a huge difference.”
Mike Sherwood also believes defenses are beginning to become more comfortable defending the spread.
“It’s like everything else in football. It evolves,” Sherwood said. “An offense or a defense will get an edge and give it a couple of years and the other side of the ball catches on to what’s going on. They figure out how to stop it or they figure out how to move the ball against a certain defense.”
“Most coaches are pretty smart,” added Oliver Luck. “Even a coach that believes in system X, if he has a talented guy that does Y a heck of a lot better, he’s going to bring a lot of those Y elements into his X offense.”
Major Harris, a quarterback seemingly perfectly suited to play in the spread offense, said he’s not a big fan of the spread.
“I hated being in the shotgun and I always wanted a fullback and a tailback behind me,” Harris said. “The reason is because of the threat of the play action pass. Look back to last year’s Super Bowl and remember what happened to New England. They tried to spread teams out and the Giants didn’t respect the play action pass and they just crashed those ends down on Tom Brady.”
West Virginia this year has tried to become less one-dimensional with White. At times it has worked and at other times it has not. White is being coached to go through his progressions and check down to the secondary receivers when the primary guys are not open.
Marshall said he was usually instructed to tuck the ball under his arm and run it if the first option wasn’t there.
“I do remember a lot of times them emphasizing, ‘Hey, if you don’t see something there after your first or second read coming back down to the back - if it’s not there, you take off and run,’” Marshall said. “A lot of times I was told, ‘Look you’re the fastest guy out there on the field. You can pick up 10 yards in a blink of an eye before risking something stupid like putting it in the air.’”
White will quarterback his final home game at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday night against South Florida. The pro scouts say his future is probably at wide receiver. Who knows? But you can count Oliver Luck among those believing that Pat White is the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Mountaineers.
“I would put Pat at the top of the heap for what he’s done largely because of the number of wins because that’s what it’s all about,” Luck said.
“He’s one of the best,” Wyant said. “He holds the record in the NCAA for rushing.”
“He’s been an absolute pleasure to watch over the years and he seems like a great kid, too,” said Sherwood. “That’s the other thing. He seems like he is a real gentlemen.”
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