West Virginia Football: Welcome Change for Mountaineers Offense

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IJune 24, 2008

Interview by a Seattle-area paper with Seahawks draft pick Owen Schmitt earlier this month:

“Q: How different is the offense here from the one you ran at West Virginia?

Schmitt: Oh, God.  We had 12 plays there.  Literally.  And we ran six of them.

Q: Give it to Slaton?

Schmitt: Yeah.  Literally, we had 12 plays and ran six.  Maybe.  At the most.”

To prepare for the upcoming college football season, I’ve been watching last year’s WVU football games I’ve kept on TiVo, with Schmitt’s quotes ringing in my head.

I see what he means.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

I didn’t record either loss (South Florida and Pitt), and I’ve found that the victories provide various levels of satisfaction in re-watching.

For instance, the 55-14 victory over Syracuse is almost unwatchable.  I’m not sure if it’s because Syracuse was stinking up the screen, or because of their really ugly unis (only Syracuse can find ugly throwback unis), or because of that really, really annoying low-angle television camera angle necessitated by the dingy Carrier Dome.

Further, imagine a 41-point win in which A) you don’t have a running back to hit 100 yards, or B) your quarterback doesn’t throw for 150 yards.

On the other hand, the Louisville game was terrific television, full of drama throughout, at nighttime on ESPN HD, brilliantly illuminated by the Mountaineer Field lights and the Mounties' all-gold unis.

Other games provided partial satisfaction.  The first quarter of the Mississippi State game, for instance, which began with a 60-yard Pat White TD run.  The East Carolina game was an all-three-phases domination that bogged down in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps the most deceptive win of last year was the 66-21 wipeout of UConn, and this speaks to Schmitt’s point.  This game was only 24-14 at halftime, with UConn running the ball at will and consistently stopping WVU on defense.

Three third-quarter TDs put the game out of UConn’s reach, and evidently the Huskies gave up in the fourth quarter, giving up three more TDs to WVU backups.

But despite the score, the UConn victory was a predictor of the Pitt loss the following week, which ruined the Mountaineers’ bid to play for the national championship.

Against UConn the Mountaineers ran essentially three plays: Steve Slaton/Noel Devine left and right, direct snap to Pat White, bubble screen left and right.  Almost.  Nothing.  Vertical.  (Except for White scrambling on a broken play.)

It was amazing to watch—we all saw it last year and on some level knew it, but the breakaway 50-yard runs and big-point victories made us overlook the banality of the play-calling.  And by the end of the season, the defenses were hip to it.

UConn was getting it, but simply got overwhelmed by athletic superiority as the game moved along.  But Pitt had athletes equal to WVU’s, or at least closer, and they had a defensive coach who devised a game plan that he knew could focus on an entirely horizontal, non-vertical offense.

Heck, South Florida has figured it out the past two years.  Asked how South Florida shut down the jaw-dropping WVU offense after the 2007 win, the South Florida defensive coordinator’s easy-as-pie answer was devastating: Heck, it’s just defending the old-fashioned triple-option.  Translation: We didn’t have to defend the pass.

The 79-yard touchdown post route TD that Tito Gonzalez caught in the Fiesta Bowl—did we see that route during the season?

So I look forward to Jeff Mullen’s imported offensive schemes from Wake Forest.  All spring long, Coach Stewart talked about exploiting the middle of the field, and Mullen talked about reducing the wear and tear on White’s body by having him throw more.

Which means White won’t connect on 70 percent of his passes like he did last year, and he’ll probably throw more than the four interceptions he threw last year because he’ll actually be throwing upfield and those throws are riskier.

But the payoff should be worth it.