WITH SLIGHTLYMORE than five minutes left in last January's Gator Bowl and West Virginiaclinging to a 38-35 lead over Georgia Tech, coach Rich Rodriguez pulledquarterback Patrick White aside. "We need to get three or four firstdowns," he said, "and we're not going to [risk too many handoffs]."Sure enough, White, playing with hand, ankle and neck injuries, took the ballon 10 of the game's final 12 plays, gaining 54 yards and four first downs torun out the clock. "He willed us to win," says Rodriguez.
Winning hasbecome routine for the lanky 6' 2", 185-pound quarterback from Daphne, Ala.Since taking over Rodriguez's spread-option offense midway through the 2005season, the junior has rushed for 2,171 yards and 25 touchdowns in leading theMountaineers to a 16-2 record. Junior running back Steve Slaton garners moreattention from Heisman voters, but White may be more dangerous simply becausehe touches the ball on every play. "He's probably the fastest guy on thefield at any time," says Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "And he's thequarterback."
A Daphne Highoutfielder picked in the fourth round of the 2004 draft by the Angels (whoselected him again in the 27th round in June), White has 4.42 speed, which atfirst overshadowed his passing skills; he averaged just 11.1¬†throws overhis first eight starts. But with defenses gearing up against West Virginia'srushing attack (ranked in the top five nationally in each of the past twoseasons), Rodriguez began relying more on White's arm. In a 45-27 win atarchrival Pittsburgh last November, White completed 11 of 16 passes for 204yards and two touchdowns (while also rushing for 220 yards and two scores). Sixweeks later in the Gator Bowl, he began West Virginia's comeback from a 35-17deficit with a 57-yard touchdown strike to Tito Gonzales. "I just likegetting the ball into the end zone any way I can," says White.
After completing65.9% of his attempts last year, White is poised to become college football'smost dangerous run-pass threat since Texas's Vince Young. With the return ofveteran receivers Gonzales and Darius Reynaud and the arrival of freshman speeddemon Noel Devine (whom Rodriguez hopes to use at tailback and slot receiver),the Mountaineers' offense figures to be even more explosive. Rodriguez and newquarterbacks coach Rod Smith--himself a former Rodriguez signal-caller atDivision¬†II Glenville (W.Va.) State--have worked with White on quickeninghis release. "The biggest surprise is going to be the passing game,"says Reynaud. "We're going to kill them with that this year."
CONFERENCE: Big East
COACH: Rich Rodriguez
2006 RECORD: 11-2 (5-2¬†in¬†Big¬†East)
FINAL AP RANK: 10
RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 7, Defense 8
RB Steve Slaton (Jr.)
Nation's No. 4 rusher gained 7.0 yards per carry
FB Owen Schmitt (Sr.)
Scored eight touchdowns as a rusher and receiver
FS Quinton Andrews (So.)
Had 80 tackles and a team-high five picks
Sept. 1 WESTERN MICHIGAN
8 at Marshall
13 at Maryland
22 EAST CAROLINA
28 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at Syracuse
20 MISSISSIPPI STATE
27 at Rutgers
Nov. 8 LOUISVILLE
17 at Cincinnati
Dec. 1 PITTSBURGH
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Says Schiano of White, "He is probably the fastestguy on the field at any time."
An accurate passer, White now has a quicker release.¬†
Bob Beverly/WVU Photo Services (MASCOT)