No. 8 Georgia (10-2) lost two consecutive midseason games, the first before the return of quarterback D.J. Shockley after a knee injury versus Arkansas. Without him, the Bulldogs managed just 10 points in a 14-10 loss to Florida, then lost 31-30 at home to Auburn, tallying 304 passing yards against the nation's hottest team. It hasn't been defeated since, averaging 31 points in its final three games.
"There style is very different," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "Shockley will pass more often and he is very athletic and can run well, but is not the guy that will run as much as White."
Nobody is. White carried 23 times against Pitt, nearly single-handedly beating the bewildered Panthers. When tailback Steve Slaton was slowed by USF, White ripped off runs of 76 and 65 yards, the latter a highlight reel romp that recalled memories of Major Harris, the scrambling slinger who led WVU to its first undefeated 11-0 season in 1988 and twice finished as a Heisman Finalist.
And though Mountaineer fans aren't quite ready to put White's No. 5 alongside Major's No. 9, the former did more as a freshman than the latter even thought about doing.
"He is special, he really is," Richt said of White. "It looks like, to me as I look at the schedule, that after they beat Louisville they took off with great boost of confidence on both sides of ball. Offensively, that had to do with that quarterback. Once they get confidence and on a roll, they are difficult to stop. They have a lot of momentum now."
Shockley, at 6-1, 206 pounds, is the more physically imposing of the two. He stays in the pocket longer and is more of a traditional athletic quarterback who passes before running. He has netted just 251 rushing yards, but owns a 146.72 pass efficiency rating after completing 153 of 277 passes for 2,311 yards, 21 scores and five interceptions.
White, at 6-2, 185 pounds, runs out of a spread look and creates more of his own runs through reads. He can either hand to Slaton, or keep it on runs varying from off-tackle to sweeps to option looks. He has ran for 875 yards at 8.2 per pop and thrown for just 708, rendering moot any comparisons of how similar the quarterbacks are.
Shockley's a senior. White's a freshman. Shockley's a native of College Park, Ga. and was naturally inclined to go to State U. White's from Alabama, and actually verballed to LSU before going to West Virginia.
"He called us when he did that and said he thought he made a mistake," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We assured him he had not since he hadn't signed anything."
The Mountaineers convinced the third round L.A. Angels draftee to pass on both baseball and the Bayou for the Big East. He surprised the nation by taking frosh All-American honors and leading WVU – hit hard by the loss of its top running back, receiver and defensive player to the NFL – to its first outright Big East title since 1993 and its fourth overall.
Shockley waited four years to pull a similar stunner for a Georgia team not even picked to win the SEC East. After the loss of linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman, quarterback David Greene and wideout Reggie Brown, among others, to the NFL, it looked as though Shockley's one chance to start would be a rare rebuilding year in Athens. Instead, the Bulldogs drubbed LSU 34-14 in the SEC title game for their second title in four years.
"He is definitely the catalyst for our team," Richt said. "He could have been hurt much worse (against Arkansas) and ended his career. I love to see guys rewarded for loyalty.
"I can understand why we were ranked where we were. Other teams had areas where they did not lose starters, and we have such an ultra-competitive league, it's hard to think any team year in and out will find way to a championship."
Which makes Georgia's – and West Virginia's – accomplishments even greater. Behind the two quarterbacks, both teams turned supposed down seasons into chances for major bowl win. That's especially satisfying for West Virginia, which is playing not just for its first major bowl win ever, but for a battered Big East that has taken a hit nationally.
"For is, it was a matter of seeing how fast our freshmen would grasp things and seeing what we could do when they did," Rodriguez said. "I think we have answered some of that."
Said Richt: I knew we had a great group. I wasn't predicting us to win, but if things went our way and they led, we had a chance. We tried real hard to promote ‘team.' We didn't have marquee names, but more guys contributed this year. There was no one guy in the forefront."
And perhaps that's the truest measure of team in athletics, when two players can unexpectedly emerge and create a season so startling that it erases disappointments of the year past.