West Virginia had the nation’s fourth-best rushing offense last season led by the duo of quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton.
With Slaton gone, there’s no doubt White can still lead a solid rushing attack, but he spent the first game of his senior season reminding the country he can throw the ball as well.
After tossing a career-high five touchdown passes in the opener, White will lead the eighth-ranked Mountaineers on the road Saturday against East Carolina, which is coming off an impressive upset victory in its first game of the season.
West Virginia rode the legs of White and Slaton to 11-win seasons in each of the last three years, and the Mountaineers came into this season having gained more yards on the ground - 291.4 per game - than any program but Navy since 2005.
Slaton opted to enter the NFL draft after his junior season, however, leaving the offense in the hands of White and Noel Devine, who averaged an electrifying 8.6 yards per carry as a freshman in 2007.
White and Devine each had nine carries in the season opener against Villanova last Saturday, totaling 110 yards, but it was White’s passing skills that took center stage in a 48-21 win. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 208 yards - personal highs for attempts and completions - and also threw an interception.
“Patrick White was on target - bull’s-eye, bull’s-eye - all day,” said first-year coach Bill Stewart. “He could have been 31-of-33 with no picks.”
White had never thrown more than two touchdowns in a game.
The Mountaineers had 205 yards through the air and 149 on the ground, just about half of what they averaged last season running the ball. They had more passing yards than rushing yards just once in 2007, and that was in a loss to South Florida.
But Stewart, who took over the program after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, has promised to throw the ball more often in 2008, something wide receiver Alric Arnett is happy to hear.
“Teams are still going to load the box because we have the greatest one-two running punch in college football in Pat White and Noel Devine,” said Arnett, who had four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. “Once those guys load the box to try and stop those guys, that’s when we’re going to try and hit you over the top.”
West Virginia’s defense gave up nearly 400 yards to the Wildcats, partially a product of Villanova controlling the ball for more than 37 minutes. The Mountaineers will get a much bigger test this week against East Carolina, which put up 369 yards in a 27-22 comeback win against then-No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday in Charlotte.
It was the second straight victory over a ranked team for the Pirates, who upset Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl last season. Fourth-year coach Skip Holtz has guided East Carolina to consecutive winning seasons after taking over a program in 2005 that had gone a combined 7-28 since 2002.
“It’s a story of a group of young men that have come together and said, ‘We’re tired of losing. We want to accomplish something special,’” Holtz said. “They’re working very hard for that on the field and I’m very proud of them.”
The Pirates scored the winning touchdown after returning a blocked punt, but stayed close throughout due to an outstanding performance from quarterback Patrick Pinkney. The senior, who split time a year ago, was 19-for-23 with a touchdown.
Pinkney was 7-for-14 with an interception last season when East Carolina traveled to Morgantown to face West Virginia. The Pirates will have to hope they’ve closed the talent gap from that game, when the Mountaineers outgained them 599-160 in a 48-7 drubbing.
White was 18-for-20 in the win, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
“I don’t think we’ll have to go far past putting the film in of the West Virginia team we’re about to play to have our team’s attention,” Holtz said.
West Virginia has beaten East Carolina seven straight times since 2000, outscoring them 278-103.