CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shhh, don't say it too loud. Barry
Switzer is a fan of West Virginia.
The former Oklahoma coach won't be rooting for the Mountaineers
when they face the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl. But he does gush
about how West Virginia's no-huddle offense works.
Just as Switzer helped transform Oklahoma's wishbone into the
most prolific rushing attack in college football history, West
Virginia thrives in the run-based spread formation.
"They've got a playbook that works," Switzer told The
Associated Press in a recent telephone interview from Norman, Okla.
"I've loved their offense. When I saw them run it the first time,
I loved it. I said this is similar to something I would do if I was
college coaching again."
It's a system that may be used for the last time at West
Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, unless coach Rich Rodriguez's
successor retains it. Rodriguez was hired at Michigan on Dec. 16
and isn't going to the bowl.
West Virginia annually has one of the nation's top rushing
attacks. The Mountaineers (No. 9 BCS, No. 11 AP) can earn a third
straight 11-win season -- a feat that can be matched only by
Southern Cal and LSU -- if they beat the Sooners (No. 4 BCS, No. 3 AP)
on Jan. 2.
Since the arrival of running back Steve Slaton and quarterback
Pat White three years ago, West Virginia has averaged 274 yards
rushing or better per game and ranked no worse than fourth in the
nation on the ground.
Switzer remembers seeing White as a freshman two years ago, when
he led the Mountaineers to a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
White has surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in 2006 and 2007. He had
a career-high 247 yards against Syracuse last year and became the
eighth player in NCAA history to throw and pass for more than 200
yards in a 2006 game against Pittsburgh.
"They're more deceptive than the wishbone. The wishbone was an
east-west offense," Switzer said. "This offense he runs is more
deceptive because you run counters, you run options off the
counters. It's just totally lined up to be able to go
It took several years for Rodriguez's offense to attain its
run-oriented label. It is rooted in the run-and-shoot passing
gallery of Mouse Davis, who served as offensive coordinator in
1988-90 with the Detroit Lions.
Rodriguez took over at then-NAIA Glenville State in 1990 but won
just one game and started his current system in 1991. He knew he
couldn't match the size of opposing defenses, so he got innovative,
going without a huddle with the quarterback in shotgun formation
and spreading out the field.
In 1993, Glenville's Jed Drenning threw for 3,593 yards and wide
receiver Chris George caught 117 passes. George still holds
Division II records for single-season receiving yards (1,876) in
1993 and single-game catches (23) in 1994.
By 1997, Rodriguez had become Tommy Bowden's offensive
coordinator at Tulane. Shaun King threw for 3,500 yards and 38
touchdowns the following season, with Rodriguez seeing him as
another running back. King gained 633 yards on the ground, ranking
third on the team.
Rodriguez followed Bowden to Clemson, where Woody Dantzler
became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000
yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a regular season.
Rodriguez took over at West Virginia in 2001. Rasheed Marshall
continued Rodriguez's trend of rushing quarterbacks, compiling 861
yards in 2004. White took over in the middle of the 2005 season and
has gone 25-4 as a starter and has rushed for a Big East
quarterback record with 3,356 yards.
Coaches have come from all over to West Virginia each winter to
pick up tidbits of the spread formation and see if it might work in
their own systems. Usually the coaches are from programs that don't
play the Mountaineers.
Urban Meyer studied the spread scheme before his coaching stints
at Bowling Green and Utah.
After Tulane went 12-0 in 1998 and averaged 45 points per game,
Northwestern paid a visit to Rodriguez and introduced the system to
the Big Ten. Rodriguez said later he may have given away too much
Other coaches came to Morgantown from places like Ohio State,
Nebraska, Florida State and Michigan-beater Appalachian State to
take notes. And next fall, Michigan fans will have the spread on
"Coaches are great copycats," Rodriguez said before taking the
Michigan job. "They'll see an idea or two from here and there. And
we're such a competitive profession that coaches will study as much
as they can in the offseason and put a plan together. If the thing
matches right with a couple of talented skill players and some
coaches that get players believing in their system, then anything