Friday, August 08, 2008

Pat White's Passing Prowess

There's been a lot of talk about Pat White and the West Virginia offense passing more this year. Going off the top of my head and not wanting to look to see what his numbers actually were, it seems like he's had about 200 yards passing in the past three spring games. Following each spring game we've all licked our lips and thought how dominating this offense would be if we had a better passing game. We've seen flashes of it, like the pass to Tito Gonzalez in the Fiesta Bowl. We've questioned why we didn't pass more over the middle in last year's Marshall game when the middle of the field was ours for the taking. But for all the preseason talk about making the passing game more of a focus the last couple years under Rodriguez, and this year under Stewart, we haven't seen that talk turn into reality on the field.

Given, we haven't seen what this year's offense is going to do. But I just want to take a step back and ask, do we really want to pass more? I had said in passing (no pun intended) a couple weeks ago that I don't really want us to pass more, just better. The point behind that is we are a very successful running team. We've had a great deal of success wearing most teams down by the 3rd and 4th quarters because of our running game and tempo of play. The only thing that has been missing, mostly, is our use of the entire field in the passing game.

I think 15-20 passes a game is probably best, and really 20 should only happen in the most extreme conditions. If you get, let's say, 60 offensive snaps a game and you run the ball as well as we do you should run the ball about 70% of the time. That seems to be about the ratio that Rodriguez went with. And hate him or not, he's no dummy when it comes to offense. I remember being very critical of him early in the 2006 season for not passing down the field more. Almost on cue, the second quarter came around in the East Carolina game and Pat was heaving up bombs that resulted in something like interception, batted down, int., int. And I basically shut up the rest of the year on the subject. Not until the South Florida bubble screen massacre of 2007 did I speak up again. But outside of a couple of impressive wheel routes run by Steve Slaton in the 2006 Pitt game did we see anything other than bubble screens. At least on a consistent basis. There was just so much of the field that wasn't being attacked. It was rather disappointing considering that "make them defend the entire field" was the mantra of the Rodriguez offense.

What I expect to see out of this year's team isn't bombs away, and it shouldn't be. I think Pat has a strong arm, but I don't think it's what he does best. He's proven to be very accurate up to 25 yards from the line of scrimmage, and occasionally connects on passes outside that range. What we've heard from the coaching staff is that there are going to be a lot of timing routes designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly. That would mesh well with an up-tempo offense like ours, and would play to White's strengths in the passing game. But like any good battle plan, they all get tossed out the window when the first bullet is fired, and hopefully you adjust.

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