Pat White and the Mountaineers relied on a new and improved passing game to get past I-AA foe Villanova in the 2008 lid lifter for both teams.
White, a senior, had a career day with his powerful left arm, finishing 25-33 for 209 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. The 25 completions, 33 attempts and five touchdowns were all career-highs for White. The five touchdowns also set a new Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium record.
New head coach Bill Stewart was just one of many impressed with the play of White against Villanova.
“I was very pleased with No. 5 today,” Stewart said following his first regular season win at WVU. “That guy was absolutely lights out, pitching and catching. They said he couldn’t do it. I saw one bad pass, a ball behind Alric Arnett.”
Arnett was the recipient of White’s first two touchdown passes of the day. The two scores were also the first career catches for Arnett. The first, which came on a post route, immediately followed a big play by the Mountaineer defense.
With Villanova driving deep into WVU territory (thanks in no small part to a late hit on West Virginia that resulted in a 39-yard play for the Wildcats), West Virginia’s veteran linebackers rose to the challenge. Villanova quarterback Antwon Young was greeted by seniors John Holmes and Mortty Ivy in the backfield. On his fall to the turf, Young dropped the pigskin. Holmes did his best to scoop up the loose ball, but ultimately it was Ivy who picked it up and rumbled 30 yards down the field, dragging a pair of Villanova players for the final ten yards of his run.
One play later, White found Arnett.
“Even before the play, Pat told me he was coming for me,” Arnett said. “He said ‘Arnett, look for it. I’m coming.’ I shook my head and made a play on the ball.”
For all intents and purposes, the game was over at that point. However, that didn’t stop the senior quarterback for putting on quite the show for the 60,566 in attendance on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
White’s second touchdown pass was nothing less than a thing of beauty. Out of the I-formation, White faked an isolation to Noel Devine and sold an end around to Bradley Starks, all the while Arnett ran free through the secondary. With a flick of the wrist, White unleashed a beautiful, high-arcing pass which found Arnett in stride as he stood alone in the south end zone.
“I was thinking that I was so open I had to catch the ball,” Arnett said with a laugh. “If I didn’t catch that ball, I’d have never played again. So I just stayed calm, followed through and hauled it in. If you don’t catch the ball, you can’t run with it. My second catch of the day. Who would have ever thought that, my first two catches were both touchdowns.”
Arnett’s touchdowns were sandwiched around a three-yard TD pass to tight end/fullback Will Johnson, making his first start at his new hybrid position.
Jock Sanders, fresh off an impressive sophomore training camp, had touchdown catches of nine and 17 yards, respectively.
Villanova head coach Andy Talley left Morgantown in awe of the play of West Virginia’s senior Heisman Trophy candidate.
“I thought they were throw more,” he said. “We think (Pat White) is an underrated passer. He proved today he’s as good passing as he is running.”
Though White’s exploits on the ground are well-documented, they were of little use to he or his team on this afternoon. The Wildcats, content to load nine defenders into the box, came in with a plan of slowing down West Virginia’s running game. And as he has vowed to do since he first took the job last January, Bill Stewart lived up to his promise to make the opposition play for selling out against the run.
“We had to do something to people who load the box to get them out of the box,” Stewart said. “What’s the difference if Patrick throws it out there to Noel (Devine)? Noel had six catches, and Jock had eight catches. If we get the ball out to them in the flat, it’s the same as a sweep or an option. When they’re cramped in there, we’re going out there. Once they spread the field, we’ll go North and South.
“I’d like to have gone about 65 percent run, 35 percent passes,” he continued. “We wanted to pass the ball today. We wanted to get these guys the ball, just in case guys load the box and make us pass we won’t get caught short handed and just have to let (White) run the ball every single time.”
West Virginia’s defense, replacing seven starters from one year ago, struggled at times with the play of Young and the Villanova offense. The Wildcats ran 87 plays compared to 56 for the Mountaineers. Time of possession was also in the favor of Villanova by nearly 15 minutes.
So, there are certainly plenty of things for the Mountaineers to work on as they prepare for next week’s road test at East Carolina (victors over Virginia Tech earlier on Saturday).
“From what I have heard today, I have to believe we’re going into a hornet’s nest next weekend (at East Carolina),” Stewart said. “I have to believe we’re going into a pirate’s den.”
On this weekend, though, it was West Virginia which housed the hornet’s nest on yet another record-setting day for Pat White.