I Believe I Can Fly
Pat White has glided on the gridiron throughout his career as a Mountaineer, but he never took to the air they way he did Saturday versus North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. We knew he was fleet of foot – White is the all-time leading rushing quarterback in FBS Football – but no one saw his first career 300-yard passing game on the horizon in his finale.
White showed off his newly-found rifle on the opening drive, connecting with Jock Sanders on a 22-yard frozen rope – a pass with some giddy-up on it – on a sideline route. The southpaw completed all four of his passes on the drive for 37 yards, setting up an 18-yard scoring scamper by Noel Devine and a 7-0 Mountaineer lead. On West Virginia’s next two possessions, White found Alric Arnett in the end zone from 44 yards out, then tossed his second touchdown pass of the first quarter, a 35-yard strike to Bradley Starks.
Was this the same Pat White we’ve seen for four years? Good pass protection led to time in the pocket, which led to good footwork and stronger throws. Not only did White complete passes of 22, 35 and 44 yards in the first quarter, but that’s how far his completions went through the air – there were no yards after the catch.
Even with White’s spectacular opening stanza, the Big East school trailed heading into intermission. White came out of the locker room as he went in – slinging the football. He completed all five of his pass attempts for 54 yards as WVU regained the lead on a 25-yard Pat McAfee field goal.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with North Carolina back in front 30-24, White was sacked on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Heels in Mountaineer territory. After a 10-yard run by Shaun Draughn to the West Virginia 30, it appeared UNC was going to extend their lead and make it a two-possession game…until Draughn fumbled on the ensuing play.
White wasn’t going to wait to take advantage of this golden opportunity and he immediately connected with Sanders for a 40-yard pass play. After White used his legs for a nine-yard run to the UNC 20-yard line, it was back to the air as the senior signal caller hit Arnett for his third scoring pass of the day and the game-winning touchdown.
The Mountaineer star, already the all-time leading rushing quarterback, became the first FBC quarterback to start and win four bowl games. White topped 300 passing yards for the first time in his career – 332 yards to be exact – while completing an impressive 26-of-32 attempts.
Does this mean White will play quarterback at the next level?
I don’t think so. However, he may have earned himself a chance to take some snaps under center at the Senior Bowl. His best chance to play for pay is a move to wide receiver or as a return man. He can also be one of the more dangerous “wildcat” weapons or resurrect the role of “slash”. The second, third and fourth quarterbacks on that all-time rushing list are Brad Smith, Antwaan Randle El and Josh Cribbs – all three play wide receiver in the NFL.
Others like Don McPherson and more recently Eric Crouch weren’t been able to take the quarterback out of the player in order to play on Sundays. You can’t blame White if he still fancies himself a quarterback. You would too if you’ve been as successful as he has.
Which way White will go, only he knows…
Noel Devine is magical in the open field – he used a little shake & bake to get by linebacker Quan Sturdivant – he of 87 solo tackles (122 total) – and then powered his way to break free from another would be tackler for an 18-yard touchdown run.
Devin possesses great speed, which allows him turn the corner. He has a low center of gravity when he runs the ball – meaning more than an arm tackle is required to bring down this 5’ 8” dynamo. Once he hits the pile, the sophomore tailback keeps his legs going to pick up extra yards. He’s not your typical “scat-back”.
Two other “stars of tomorrow” for the Mountaineers are center Eric Jobe and wide out Bradley Starks. Jobe, a sophomore, is an impressive athlete for a center, while Bradley showed good hands versus the Tar Heels. The freshman has good length at 6’ 3”, but needs to bulk up some in the off-season.
In the Nick of Time
If not for White, the game MVP would surely have been North Carolina junior pass catcher Hakeem Nicks. The Tar Heel caught eight balls for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Nicks displayed big, strong reliable hands. He is also a precise route runner who is physical after the catch, making him dangerous with the ball in hands.
Before people get carried away with the numbers and anoint him a first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, let’s not forget that on his 73-yard touchdown reception, the ball bounced off of West Virginia defensive back Ellis Lankster. The cornerback was running stride for stride with Nicks, had excellent timing in making his leap, and should have come up with the interception. Instead he deflected the pass to Nicks and showed the world why he belongs on the defensive side of the ball. Nicks’ second scoring snag came from a trick play with wide out Cooter Arnold doing the passing honors. Nicks did run away from Quinton Andrews, but that was more about the West Virginia safety’s lack of make-up speed than Nicks’ breakaway speed.
Lankster, WVU’s best coverman, did have trouble staying with Nicks when he had to cover him one-on-one. Nicks made a circus catch that would make P.T. Barnum proud. On a pass thrown behind him, Nicks held on by the tip of the football and switched hands behind his back, much to the shock of Mountaineer defenders.
Butch Davis was handed his first ever bowl loss, but can be proud of his bunch. After all, the Heels were 4-8 last season and were one of the youngest teams in the country this season. They featured some of the nation’s best underclassmen and should be better for it in 2009 as Davis is building something special in Chapel Hill.
Freshman defensive end Robert Quinn (6’ 5”/260) is an impressive athlete for a man of his size and was able to use his speed and quickness to get into the backfield more than once. Junior defensive tackle Cam Thomas (6’ 4”/330) was very active with sophomore Marvin Austin (6’ 3”/300) and freshman Tydreke Powell (6’ 3”/300) possessing oodles of potential at the position. Freshman ends Michael McAdoo (6’ 7”/245) and Quinton Coples (6’ 6”/245) saw the field as well.
Sophomore linebacker Quan Sturdivant led the way with 11 tackles, as he usually does, and looked comfortable when asked to drop back in pass coverage. Making several nice stops was Bruce Carter, another athletic second year linebacker, who even displayed the speed to run wide with Pat White. Carter recorded two sacks among his seven tackles.
Getting extra playing time was sophomore Da’Norris Searcy, a natural strong safety, who played a hybrid-defensive back/linebacker position with starting MIKE Mark Paschal out with an injury. Searcy flourished playing near the line of scrimmage, recording 10 tackles including a pair of sacks of White. He showed athleticism that not only rivaled White’s in the open field, but Noel Devine’s as well. He also made a good read on a third down screen pass. Searcy was very effective coming in as a blitzer, possibly creating a role for himself in 2009.
In the secondary, sophomore free safety Deunta Williams was their top playmaker. Williams did it all, stuffing Devine in the end zone for safety and later picking off a Pat White pass in the end zone as the Mountaineers were going in for the score. Those were significant plays that directly impacted the scoreboard. At the corner position, sophomore Kendric Burney can tackle with the best of them, using sound technique to make plays in the open field. Two of his seven stops were for a loss.
Other than Paschal, UNC only loses strong safety Trimane Goddard from their defense, as there was only one other senior even on the depth chart for the bowl game. Expect big things from the Heels in 2009.
Photo Credit: UNC Athletic Communications, WVU Sports Communication
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I Believe I Can Fly