WVU Spring Game: New emphasis on passing helps White progress as quarterback
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- All around the West Virginia spring football game yesterday, the buzz word was "progression."
The progression of first-year head coach Bill Stewart, who took over after a messy divorce from former coach Rich Rodriguez.
The progression of the defense as a cohesive unit.
But, perhaps most important was the progression of the offense from its former run-heavy tendencies to a balanced attack behind quarterback Pat White .
In front of about 18,000 fans, White showed flashes that he has transformed from a track man in some football pads into a polished quarterback. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown in limited work, and the offense outscored the defense, 59-15, in a game using a modified scoring system.
When there was a throw that needed to be made in the flat, White made it.
When there was a lofted touch pass just behind the linebackers that needed to be thrown, White threw it.
When he needed to wind up and unleash the deep ball to a receiver racing down the sideline, White did that, too.
The man who has brought the controlled passing game to Morgantown is first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, the former Wake Forest quarterbacks coach who took over for Calvin Magee. When Magee left West Virginia to join Rodriguez at Michigan, so did the offensive mind-set where the spread option offense was king.
"A lot of what we are doing in the passing game now is quick stuff, just get the ball out of Pat White's hand and let these little skill guys get out in space and make some plays," Mullen said. "And we saw that today. ... That is all part of taking a hit off of Patrick."
Because it is no secret, when West Virginia struggled last year, it did so while White was relegated to watching from the sideline.
West Virginia lost two games last season (to Pitt and South Florida). On both occasions, White spent considerable time on the bench with injuries.
This passing game is rooted in one constant -- keeping White on the field.
"The thing that you have to be careful of is that we lost a couple of games last year and it was when Pat got hurt," Mullen said. "Through a 12-game season we have to have a big-picture mentality of not running him as much. Clearly, he has to get as many touches as we need to win, but not too many that he comes out with a boo-boo."
The progression of the passing game might have been unexpected to the onlookers at sunsplashed Mountaineer Field, but not all they saw was unanticipated.
The crowd also got a glimpse at something that was expected. Noel Devine, the electrifying sophomore running back, pierced, juked and slashed his way to 33 yards on six carries.
Devine has established himself as the heir apparent to Steve Slaton, who left after his junior year to enter the NFL draft.
"I don't feel different," said Devine, who rushed for 627 yards last season. "I just have to go out there and help my team the best I can."
One of the few weaknesses -- and it was glaring -- was the lack of a fullback in the mold of departed senior Owen Schmitt, who plowed the way for Slaton and Devine last season.
Converted tight end Will Johnson, a sophomore, played fullback with the first unit yesterday, but not to the level of Schmitt.
"One of the hardest play calls right now is a third-and-short for us, I'll be honest with you," Mullen said. "We have the little guy [Devine] who is not a big, in between the tackles, kind of runner. ... But, I wouldn't trade speed for any size in the world because this game is fast and it has to start with speed."
West Virginia has plenty of that. And if yesterday was an accurate indicator, the Mountaineers also have a quarterback who is relying less on his speed and more on his left arm.
First Published April 20, 2008 12:00 am