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Matt Hinton

Meet West Virginia, post-Pat White (goodbye, spread 'n shred)

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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West Virginia's win over North Carolina was one of the wildest and best of the bowl season, and weird for the Mountaineers in one glaring way: Pat White was allowed to look like a full-fledged, multi-faceted quarterback. It was the rare turn for White to attempt 30 passes in a game -- he'd never thrown more than 25 before last year -- and even rarer for those throws to amount to much. But White hit five passes for longer than 20 yards against UNC, including all three of his touchdown throws, and his 332-yard farewell obliterated the previous high (222 yards) in any of his first 42 starts. It was another side not only of White, but, in the willingness to repeatedly throw downfield, of West Virginia's entire offense.

You could chalk that outburst up to the demands of a tense, back-and-forth game, or even some unlikely, kitchen-sink plan to show off White's much-doubted arm for the pros. Bill Stewart, though, had a different idea as WVU set to open spring practice this afternoon -- the passing exhibition wasn't the end of the Mountaineers' prolific White period, but the beginning of a more balanced philosophy in their superstar's absence:

"We need to build the passing game from the bowl," Coach Bill Stewart said. "We had to spread the wealth a little bit and we did. Those were my marching orders. I'm the guy who said it, but I'm not the guy who coached it."

No, that would be Jeff Mullen, the offensive coordinator who will spend his second spring developing a new quarterback and a slightly different offensive philosophy.
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"Every offensive coordinator would be lying to you if he didn't say if they finished the game with 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing, he'd take it and run with it every time," Mullen said. "You become a much harder team to defend. If you are one-dimensional, at some point you're going to get stopped. ..."

Yeah, that's kind of a sore subject in Morgantown, where one of those points, in particular -- the flailing effort in a loss to Pitt that cost WVU a championship shot in 2007, and likely contributed to costing the coach who built the most successful run in school history -- will be lamented for decades. Stewart, of course, was part of that loss on the sideline, and the memory of the offense's total inability to throw when the vaunted running game ground to a halt on that crucial night may have played some role in the slight move to the center throughout last season:

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Obviously, they remain far from "balanced." In four years with White in the shotgun, WVU called more passes than runs only once, in last year's easy opening rout over Villanova (even with the yardage disparity in the bowl, the Mountaineers ran 42 times to 32 passes). The more marked trend was the regression of the entire offense, most notably of the once awe-inspiring ground attack. Assuming electron-esque Noel Devine isn't going to become a 20-carry-per-game back, White's departure ensures that the running game is very likely to regress again with Jarrett Brown, usually described as a more traditional passer, taking the reigns; at best, Brown will struggle to hold the line as the second running threat. So if the chasm between the fearsome machine under Rich Rodriguez and last year's watered-down version is going to be filled at all, it will probably have to be through the air.

Stewart is probably right that the bowl game is a good start. The corollary: The old, sweet West Virginia spread 'n shred is on its death bed.

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