Max-imizing Opportunities

Short yardage situations often immediately invoke thoughts of Owen Schmitt. But West Virginia reserve back Max Anderson provided blocks for two big plays against East Carolina, gaining coaching staff confidence and likely more time against Mississippi State's massive front seven this weekend.

Anderson, a 6-1, 230-pounder out of Morgantown High, has become a specialist if sorts. He and Schmitt, the starting fullback, make up the bulk in the No. 4 Mountaineers' jumbo sets, utilized in short-yardage and goal line situations. It was those two setups that allowed Anderson snaps in the 27-10 road-opening win at East Carolina.

"We are usually milking the clock and trying to get three or four yards a pop," said Anderson, a former walk-on that gained a scholarship even before the end of fall drills. "It's often an isolation play on a linebacker. If we can get (Schmitt) falling forward that's three or four yards right there. We ran it two times at ECU; on fourth and two with Owen and with (quarterback) Pat (White) on the goal line when he scored his touchdown."

On the second play mentioned, White ran a keeper in from five yards out for the opening score, ensuring West Virginia's seven-game streak of putting up points on its opening possession remained intact. Anderson was a lead blocker on the play, hitting the defensive front, then pushing the attack into the linebackers. On the second, Schmitt carried and Anderson again blocked, this time clearing enough room that, with a drive from Schmitt's lower body, the Mountaineers were able to gain enough yardage for a first down. The plays might not seem gargantuan, but it's the intangibles and the unselfish nature of team play exemplified by Anderson that best allows WVU to move the ball.

"We have been pretty successful running that jumbo set, just overpowering other teams," Anderson said. "I am still learning my role in the offense and learning more everyday. I am getting more comfortable with the more reps I take, but we'll be ready whenever they need it this weekend."

Anderson, the son of former WVU nose guard Ernie Anderson (lettered 1981-84 as a teammate of current head coach Rich Rodriguiez), was an all-NCAC selection at Morgantown High for the two-time defending state champions. He has carried two times for nine yards, with a long of six, for WVU this season – both totes coming against Eastern Washington – after spurning a reduced scholarship offer from Georgetown, who had originally given Anderson a greater grant-in-aid. That led to his walk-on attempt at West Virginia.

Anderson said that he did notice a main flaw in Mississippi State's defense, no matter the set, down, or situation. It's one problem that, should it manifest itself against West Virginia's no-huddle spread offense, would doom the 1-4 Bulldogs to a fifth loss heading into a final non-conference game against Jacksonville State.

"They don't seem to tackle very well," he said. "They have athletic, big guys who all run to the ball. They just generally miss here or there and guys break loose. That's the one problem I have seen with their defense."

Yet MSU has actually stopped the run effectively, getting beat more by the pass. Is there a temptation, then, with State's inability to stop the pass – it has allowed 244.4 passing yards per game and 14.5 per catch as opposed to a paltry 104 and 3.1 in the run game, respectively – for West Virginia to shelve the run and throw the ball more than its 17.75 passes per game average?

"There might be, but the run always sets up the pass," Anderson said. "If you establish a ground game then you will have more success passing. But that could be an option."

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