WVU Football: White offered a taste of new passing game

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Let history record that the Bill Stewart era of new, improved offense at West Virginia launched Saturday with the same aerial staple as the old era -- another bubble screen.

The third and fourth pass plays were screens, too.

More to the point, though, the unveiling of their mildly-to-wildly tweaked passing game opened eyes, if not future defenses, without opening many pages from coordinator Jeff Mullen's playbook.

"I put a squash to that," Stewart admitted of a motioning, shifting, multi-faceted offense kept under wraps not for Vanillanova last weekend but for upstart East Carolina this one, and other games beyond.

"The reason I did," added the new coach, "is I didn't want to show too much."

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," receiver Alric Arnett added of the playbook. "We kept it real basic. We got a lot more. I know people around the country are going, 'West Virginia? Throw the ball?' "

Next up

Game: West Virginia (1-0) vs. Eastern Carolina (1-0), 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C.


Oh, Mullen and the Mountaineers will still run. In fact, the offensive coordinator with the Wake Forest spread-offense background vowed that they planned on a 65-35 run-pass percentage last weekend. It just turned out almost exactly the opposite because the opposition jammed nine defenders around the line of scrimmage.

Say this for the new era: Stewart vows never to bash his team into such brick walls with continual runs.

"When we do that around here, we lose," Stewart said. See South Florida 2006-07 and Pitt 2007 for further details.

"We'd love to control the ball more," Stewart added, referring to Villanova's 15-minute advantage in time of possession in the Mountaineers' 48-21 triumph. "That was very hard to do [Saturday], the box being loaded quite a bit. So, we threw the ball around the yard a little bit. I love to throw the ball on first down. Always have."

Thirty-four pass attempts against 22 rushes is as rare a sight around the Mountain State as wide, sandy beaches. The last time a Mountaineer Field crowd saw so many home-team passes was 1999 with Marc Bulger, the only West Virginia quarterback to throw for more touchdowns (a half-dozen) than Patrick White's lifetime-best five Saturday. The previous time the Mountaineers attempted more passes was the 2001 debut of their spread offense under then-first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.

Other marks of note: Seven receivers caught passes, and tight end Will Johnson caught three to fairly equal the West Virginia position's sum total between 2003-06. True, almost 1 of every 3 passes White attempted were screens, but that also computes to 2 of every 3 directed downfield. He completed 13 of those 21 tries (with five drops) for 143 yards, four scores and an 11-yards-per-completion average. Coaches were particularly impressed with his touch, such as the lofted pass over Jock Sanders' shoulder on a 17-yard corner-route touchdown.

"He's never been asked to do this," Stewart said. "I'm excited. I would hate to be a defensive coordinator."

Not that White's left arm was tied behind his back by the previous administration, but, when you have nimble enough feet to win back-to-back Big East offensive player of the year awards and approach the NCAA rushing record for quarterbacks, you use them. Stewart and Mullen merely want to employ the pass on occasion to pry open defenses for the rushing attack by White, Noel Devine and others.

A tougher test is scheduled Saturday on ESPN at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. There, the East Carolina Pirates, after a rousing upset Saturday of then-No. 17 Virginia Tech in Charlotte, N.C., return to a venue where they have vexed the Mountaineers for years -- the home team won one of the past three meetings and lost by a closer-than-appearance 27-10 margin in 2006. That last time there, White accounted for all three West Virginia touchdowns and passed for a then-career-high (and still second-best) 216 yards on 17 completions to enable the visitors to prevail.

NOTES -- It's partly up to senior middle linebacker Reed Williams if and when he wants to play, Stewart said of the defensive star who is recovering from surgery on both shoulders. "He has the green light to go. He just doesn't have the green light to go long. What percent can he go? That's what we're trying to determine. I'm just waiting to see how he turns out Friday and Saturday."


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