A Passing Fancy

  • December 29, 2008 05:02 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 29, 2008

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The greatest running quarterback in college football history used his arm to beat North Carolina in his final game at West Virginia University in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

  Pat White passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns in West Virginia's 31-30 win over North Carolina in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
AP photo

Pat White established the NCAA rushing record for quarterbacks with 4,480 yards. Twice White has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season and he finished this year with 975 yards on the ground and a team-best eight rushing TDs. But it was White’s career-high 332 yards passing and three touchdowns that lifted West Virginia to a 31-30 come-from-behind win over the Tar Heels last Saturday in Charlotte, making White the only quarterback in NCAA history to win four bowl games as a starting quarterback.

“When you’re 26 of 32 with one pick and you’re a running quarterback and gain 55 yards on the ground … the whole key to the game was our number five managing the game,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “Pat was 26 of 32 and there were a couple of drops. He should have been 30 of 32.”

“We talked before this week started about how physically gifted West Virginia was,” said North Carolina coach Butch Davis. “Pat White has been a Heisman Trophy candidate for the last two seasons. He’s a very talented and gifted young man.”

White wrapped up his career tied with North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers for sixth in NCAA history with 34 victories as a starting quarterback, trailing just Georgia’s David Greene (42), Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (39), Miami’s Ken Dorsey (38), USC’s Matt Leinart (37) and Toledo’s Chuck Ealey (35).

“He’s the greatest to ever wear the old Gold and Blue,” said Stewart.

“I’m just satisfied that we could get a win for my teammates,” White said. “Knowing this was the last time I was going to put on this uniform I definitely wanted to go out on top and we accomplished that.”

It was the perfect ending to a season that saw new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen open the year by opening up the airways with a 205-yard, five-TD passing performance from White against Villanova.

Saturday’s mode of attack was a preview of what Mullen has in store for the Mountaineer program in the future. If teams are going to stack the box with eight defenders to stop the run West Virginia has to have a viable answer in the passing game. That means exploiting all parts of the field using all available weapons, including backs and tight ends.

Freshman Tyler Urban caught two passes for 42 yards against the Tar Heels, making it the first time in six years a West Virginia tight end caught more than one pass in a game.

“People took their corners and locked our guys down,” Stewart said of his offense constantly having to deal with eight-man defensive fronts. “We couldn’t run against eight and nine men in the box. It happened to us at South Florida the last two years and we beat them this year by pitching and catching. It happened against Pitt two years ago and although we lost the game at Pitt this year, we could have won it.

“We had to become more diverse.”

It took 12 games but the Mountaineers finally accomplished that. West Virginia passed the football against North Carolina because there was simply no other way to successfully move the football.

“They had some monsters inside,” said senior offensive tackle Ryan Stanchek. “The one guy told me he was 340 pounds when we were on the field and there was no way he was 340 pounds. He was 360 or 380. It was like hitting a brick wall.”

West Virginia showed really for the first time this year that it has capable downfield playmakers in Alric Arnett and Bradley Starks. Arnett caught a pair of long touchdown passes, including a pretty one-handed grab that made the highlight reels. Starks also got behind the defense for a long touchdown catch in the first half.

“We were able to take advantage of a couple of areas on the field where they were lacking,” noted senior Dorrell Jalloh, who caught five passes for 36 yards in his final game. “They kept cheating up on the run and every time they cheated up on the run we were able to hit a deep ball to Arnett and Starks.”

What makes Arnett and Starks appealing as pass catching targets next year is the fact that both have nice size, meaning passes don’t necessarily have to be perfect to be completed. Arnett finished the year with 35 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns.

And the diminutive Jock Sanders returns as the team’s leading pass catcher with 53 receptions – seven of those going for touchdowns.

As for White, he showed Saturday against a very solid North Carolina secondary ranked seventh in the country in interceptions that he can make the difficult throws needed to play in the NFL.

“After the (North Carolina) turnover we ran a little double move and little nine (Sanders) caught it. That was an NFL throw,” Stewart said. “It was an NFL read and that’s what he’ll see someday – two high safeties rolling over and we were just waiting for them to try it. He made that pitch and catch.”

White will get the opportunity to play quarterback in front of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl next month.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this young man can play quarterback in the NFL,” Stewart said. “He can pitch and catch and he showed that (Saturday).”

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