Playing Decisions

For those of you who enjoy good game of Jeopardy, here is today's Bowl Game category answer for $300.

This West Virginia quarterback from Brashear High School in Pennsylvania was his team's leading passer and one of the top two rushers but lost a New Year's Day bowl game playing after an injury caused him to play at less than 100 percent.

If you answered, "Who is Major Harris?" add $300 to your total. Look out Ken Jennings; you have some Mountaineers on your tail.

What's that you say? The question was unfair? OK, maybe you are right. There are two answers to the $300 question. If you answered Rasheed Marshall I will have to dish out another $300. On second thought, I am just going to declare the game unfair and keep my money in my pocket. Sorry about that. I guess you should have just kept your complaints to yourself.

The problem comes from the fact that the questions for this game of Blue & Gold Jeopardy contest were written before Saturday's Gator Bowl. At that time Major Harris was the only answer. But a serious case of déjà vu, and a serious rib injury suffered in a freak play earlier this week in practice, added Marshall's name to the list of correct answers and our judges forgot to throw out the question.

But have no fear. For those of you that enjoy a more open-ended question, I have another one for you. Should Rasheed have taken the field against the Seminoles?

While you are coming up with your response, let me give you my answer. After some serious thought, my decision is no.

First let me say that I am Rasheed Marshall supporter all the way. What he has done in three seasons as the West Virginia quarterback is simply amazing, and the type of person that he is off the field is even more impressive. Watching Rasheed walk off the field for the final time brought a little moisture to my eyes and I know I will really miss him next season. If I were going to pick a player to represent my alma mater, in almost any capacity, Rasheed would always be at the top of my list, and if I were going to pick a quarterback to build a college football team around, the Pittsburgh Kid would certainly get some serious consideration.

The Marshall vs. Hales debate that has filled message boards and talk shows for much of the season is ludicrous. Marshall was named the Big East player of the year for a reason, and a healthy No. 2 put WVU in a position to win all season long. Whether or not Marshall was West Virginia's best option was not even worth considering until Saturday. Marshall at 100 percent is as good as any college quarterback you will find.

The question that has to be debated, though, is whether or not Marshall at 70 or 80 percent is better than Charles Hales at full strength. My answer is no, and it is debatable whether or not Rasheed was even that healthy. According to Rodriguez, and through my own observations, Marshall could not even lift his arm above his shoulder. In his postgame comments, Coach Rod admitted that it was difficult for Rasheed to throw downfield and even his short passes did not have the same velocity that is usually behind them. No, passing is not Rasheed's strength anyway, but there were times in the game where West Virginia needed to let the football fly.

Look, for example, at Marshall's final drive of the game. West Virginia was trailing 30-18, but there were still more than 11 minutes left on the clock when the drive began. Marshall and Kay-Jay Harris were able to get the ball down to the FSU 31 with their legs, and West Virginia would have been right back in the game with a score. Seven yards in the wrong direction, though, left the Mountaineers with a third-and-17 at the Seminole 38. WVU had little choice but to pass.

On third down the Mountaineers tried to do just that. Joe Hunter popped open on a slant, but Marshall simply could not muster the strength to get the ball to him a couple of yards from the goal line. The pigskin fell harmlessly to the turf, and West Virginia was faced with a fourth-and-long. This time, instead of taking a shot deep, WVU tried to set up a screen to pick up the 17 yards. Harris gained only two and West Virginia's opportunity to get back in the game was erased.

Before you write me an email about it, yes I do remember the screen last year in Miami. I know that those plays can work, and in fact a similar play had worked earlier in the Gator Bowl. I just don't think that would have been the play-call with a healthy quarterback. In situations where the Mountaineers needed to throw the ball, they had to stick with the run, and the clock continued to tick away.

Another play that I question happened in the first quarter. Trailing 12-6 midway through the opening quarter, West Virginia faced a third-and-four from its own 32-yard line. Expecting the Mountaineers to keep the ball on the ground or use its short passing game, FSU left Henry wide open on a skinny post. Marshall, though, tried to dump the ball off to another receiver, and the short attempt fell incomplete.

The fact that he did not get the football caused Henry to slam his helmet down and throw a tantrum that couldn't possibly be rivaled by a three-year-old in a candy store – but I will save that one for another column. Henry's behavior was unacceptable, although characteristic, but the fact still remains that Marshall missed a chance at a score. It is debatable whether or not he even saw Henry, but I have to believe he did. The problem was, he just didn't think he could get the ball to him.

These are just two of the most glaring examples that popped out to me, but there were certainly more. Rasheed was just 9-for-18 with 131 yards against a defense that was focused on stopping the run. A healthy Marshall, and probably a healthy Hales, completes at least 13 of those 18 attempts and comes close to topping the 200-yard mark through the air. The numbers could have been even higher, as it is likely that more passes would have been attempted.

With that being said, make no mistake about it; Rasheed's performance took some guts. The Mountaineer quarterback gave FSU plenty of headaches on the ground, and true to his character he did not back down one bit. Marshall did the best he could with what he had, but he just wasn't himself. It would have been sad to see Rasheed end his WVU career on the sidelines, but it was even more heartbreaking to watch him wince in pain after every play and fail to make the plays that he can usually make. His athletic ability on the ground helped keep West Virginia around for most of the game, and that is something that many injured quarterbacks could not have done. But his inability to throw the football put a huge damper on the Mountaineers' hopes in the end.

Would West Virginia have won the game with Hales behind center? We will never know. Maybe "Chachi" would have felt the nerves, made some mistakes and West Virginia would have never been in the game. But maybe, just maybe, No. 14 would have connected on a couple of long ones, including the post to Henry and the slant to Hunter and WVU could have stayed in the game a little longer. Hales showed us last year at Boston College that he does have some ability and the team can win with him running the show.

A 70 percent Major Harris was a better option than a 100 percent Greg Jones in 1989, but this year was different. West Virginia was blessed with more than one quality quarterback, and a healthy Hales should have been given a shot.

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