“I think Florida’s intentions were to use a lot of the things (West Virginia coach Rich) Rodriguez is doing, but Chris Leak’s talents didn’t really jibe with that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
When Urban Meyer took over the Gators’ program this year, he was supposed to bring the spread offense to Gainesville, but it never got off the ground. What the No. 11 Mountaineers run, now that’s the spread offense.
West Virginia runs the ball on 76 percent of its offensive plays and is fifth in the nation in rush offense with 262.4 yards per game. Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton do most of the damage. The freshman duo has combined for 1,799 yards even though neither has been a starter all season. Against Pittsburgh on Nov. 24, they had 399 rushing yards between them.
“Hats off to them, they’ve been a blessing for our team and our offense,” said Mountaineers junior safety Jahmile Addae. “I think they’re playing beyond their years, and if they keep on going in that direction, they’ll be fine.”
Slaton leads West Virginia in rushing with 924 yards, but White is what really makes the Mountaineers’ offense go, Georgia cornerback DeMario Minter said. Missouri’s Brad Smith is the only quarterback in the country to rush for more yards this year than White, and only Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush averages more than White’s 8.2 yards per carry.
“I think that’s the biggest difference from Florida,” Minter said. “With Chris Leak he didn’t want to run the ball, but the quarterback from West Virginia, he wants to run the ball.”
The combo of White and Slaton makes for tough decisions for defenses.
“You don’t really know who to defend,” Slaton said. “We’re both fast, so you really don’t know who to look out for. You can’t spy both of us.”
West Virginia has only thrown the ball 179 times this year, which is the second-fewest attempts in the country, behind only Navy. The Mountaineers rank 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in passing, with 116.2 yards per game through the air.
Three times this season, the Mountaineers have had more than 60 rushing attempts in a game. Since West Virginia doesn’t worry its opponents with offensive balance, it has to find another way to keep its running game fresh.
That’s where its array of formations take over. Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez estimates his group will see up to 10 different alignments out of three basic personnel groupings in the Sugar Bowl.
“There are some similarities (between West Virginia’s offense and Florida’s), but I think we’ve modified it more,” Rodriguez said. “We run our quarterback more, we run more formations than Florida does. We’re probably a little more unique than some of the others in terms of how we attack with formations in the run game.”
West Virginia Rushing Game-by-Game
Sept. 4 Syracuse 172 yards
Sept. 10 Wofford 339 yards
Sept. 17 Maryland 301 yards
Sept. 24 East Carolina 127 yards
Oct. 1 Virginia Tech 150 yards
Oct. 8 Rutgers 236 yards
Oct. 15 Louisville 281 yards
Nov. 2 Connecticut 228 yards
Nov. 9 Cincinnati 297 yards
Nov. 24 Pittsburgh 451 yards
Dec. 3 South Florida 305 yards