Commentary

Now healthy, West Virginia looks like a contender in Big East, Heisman races

Originally Published: October 30, 2007
By David Albright | ESPN.com

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The angry afternoon sky subsided as the relentless torrents of rain and gusty winds finally moved on.

[+] EnlargePat White
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesPat White and West Virginia were happy to be back to form against Rutgers.

So in the closing minutes of West Virginia's dominant 31-3 win at Rutgers, the Mountaineers sideline was in a playful mood.

Hulking fullback Owen Schmitt poured water over his Mohawk and used his hands to style it a bit. The results were questionable, but none of his teammates stepped forward to tell the 6-foot-3, 260-pound battering ram that his 'do wasn't working.

On the benches that outline the back of the sideline area, several Mountaineers engaged the remaining spectators who were in full heckle mode, but it wasn't a fair fight as the RU fans had no meaningful ammunition to fire back.

A few feet away, center Mike Dent and a fellow lineman shielded quarterback Pat White from the verbal fray as the trio basked in the results of Rich Rodriguez's potent offense when it's (finally) able to run on all cylinders.

After the game clock reached all zeroes, White was far from finished. He shuttled from an ABC interview to a midfield prayer to a bear hug from his head coach. Then there was an impromptu receiving line in front of WVU fans and an on-the-field photo op with a fan who clearly didn't belong -- but in actuality was the only person who stopped White all afternoon.

All in a day's work when you're one of the most electrifying players in college football. Suffice to say White did everything on this Saturday except strike a pose -- but only because that's not his style.

In a place that proudly embraces its location as the "Birthplace of College Football," the 43,620 soggy fans at Rutgers Stadium and a nearly national TV audience witnessed the rebirth of a Heisman Trophy campaign.

"When we're clicking, I really don't think anybody can stop us," Mountaineers RB Steve Slaton said. "I think it was one of [Pat's] best games. Everything they gave us, he took. We had a good week of preparation and he ran with it."

[+] EnlargePat White
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesPat White is known for his ability to evade defenders.

White's precision piloting of the WVU attack clearly benefited Slaton; he scored three of the Mountaineers' four touchdowns. But it was the 6-foot-2, 185-pound quarterback who clearly stole the show.

The key was that White was finally healthy after he suffered a thigh injury in WVU's only loss on Sept. 28 at South Florida.

And despite the less-than-ideal field conditions, the junior accounted for 300 of the Mountaineers' 398 total yards and was too much for the Scarlet Knights' defense to handle -- even when they knew what was coming.

The Daphne, Ala., native finished with a game-high 156 rushing yards (1 TD) to go along with 144 yards on 10-of-16 passing.

In fairness to the Scarlet Knights, it was the first time they had seen White up close and personal because he missed last year's triple-overtime thriller with an injury.

And there's simply no way to prepare for the combination of quickness and speed that White brings to the position.

"Schematically you can pick it up," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said a few days before the game. "But it's going to be a shock that first series when he carries the ball. He's an electric guy with that ball in his hands.

"He's so fast he can accelerate from nothing to full speed like that, and his full speed is faster than anyone on the field."

Never was that more evident than on third down.

White converted 10-of-13 of those opportunities when he either ran with or passed the ball, and he racked up 211 yards in the process.

"I've heard from people that the first time you see Pat, you think you have an angle and you don't," Rodriguez said. "He's such an explosive player that there are times when there's people around him and he either outruns the angle or makes somebody miss.

"Pat was able to do everything, and I've said this many times, I think Pat White is one of the best players in the country and he gets a chance to prove it every week."

He has four more regular-season chances to keep WVU in the BCS discussion, and, if White can stay healthy, he has four more opportunities to impress the Heisman Trophy voters.

[+] EnlargeSteve Slaton
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton provides the counter-punch in West Virginia's offense.

Up next for the No. 7 Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1 Big East) is a Thursday night national TV appearance against Louisville (No. 81 in total defense) on Nov. 8, followed by the Mountaineers final road game at Cincinnati (No. 51) on Nov. 17. The last two games are back at Milan Puskar Stadium against Connecticut (No. 10) on Nov. 24 and Pitt (No. 23) on Dec. 1.

After he dismantled Rutgers, White was more interested in spreading the praise to his teammates while he deflected talk about being back in the Heisman race.

"It was a great all-around performance," White said from a cramped RU field-hockey locker room that doubled as the visitor's postgame interview area. "Everybody executed today and did the job. We've just got to continue to do it. We made plays. When the ball was in a playmaker's hands, we made plays.

"Football is a team sport. … Heisman … I'm more worried about championships."

When White finally emerged from Rutgers Stadium in his blue and gold WVU warm-up to board the team bus and begin the trip back to Morgantown, the late-afternoon sky had cleared and was painted with a blue backdrop and a gold sun.

"I'm as good as I need to be … as good as I can be right now," White said. "I'm getting close. I felt better today than I think I have all season."

That's bad news for upcoming defenses, and it may be more than enough to propel WVU to a Big East title and the corresponding January BCS game -- with a detour in New York for White for a trophy ceremony.

David Albright is the senior deputy editor for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.