Mushed: White runs by Huskies

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – With Steve Slaton bottled and West Virginia leading Connecticut just 6-3 midway through the second quarter, the No. 5 Mountaineers again unleashed the ‘other' backfield threat on their final two first half possessions.

White ran 45 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage on one drive, then added 54 more on the next – including one run of 30 to setup Owen Schmitt's one-yard score just before the half – to turn the three-point game into a 20-3 Mountaineer edge by the break in the 37-11 win over Connecticut Friday, WVU's school-record 14th straight.

It was vintage White, exploding past defenders with his speed on some runs, nitpicking through tight areas and finding wiggle room on others. His 45-yarder was a straight sprint through a huge hole; the 30-yarder a mix of slash and dash in which he gave a hip and took it away, mimicking the tap-dance he did on UConn's upset hopes.

"He is an quarterback who happens to be a great athlete," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said, dispelling the notion that White is merely a tailback under center. "When we watched him in high school, under a great coach and in a great system, we knew he would be perfect for what we do."

White, who had his game total of 102 rushing yards by the break, actually carried the ball seven times on West Virginia's final dozen plays of the first half, the same number it took them to score 14 points. The blitzkrieg bop of the Huskies came almost solely from the signal caller, White having also added throws of 10 and 11 yards on the latter march. In all, the sophomore had thrown for 104 and rushed for 102 yards in a brilliant display of first half balance mimicked by the Mountaineer offense, which tallied 130 yards rushing and White's 104 stripes via the pass on the way to 234 total first half yards. White, who also completed nine of 14 passes for 156 yards with one score and one pick, was responsible for 206 of those.

He actually reached the century mark on a five-yard run on the final drive to setup a first and goal at the five. He went over it on the next carry, churning for four yards to the one, showcasing power as well as the red-hot speed for which he is known. The performance came on the heels, no running pun intended, of White's career-high 247 rushing yards – a Biog East and WVU record for quarterbacks – in the 41-17 win over Syracuse just six days prior.

"I don't want to be biased," said Slaton, now at 1,059 yards for the season with 128 against UConn, "but I do think we are the best 1-2 combination in the country."

White added another single-play scoring drive, this coming via a 52-yard pass to receiver Rayshawn Bolden. White faked the handoff the Slaton, which sucked in the extremely overeager Connecticut corners. Bolden, who finished with three catches for 95 yards, ran free in the secondary and White drilled a brilliant dart to him at the 12-yard line. The wideout then dragged the freshly-toasted defender into the end zone in front of UConn's already-emptying student section for a 30-3 lead with 3:48 left in the third quarter. It was a show of the two-dimensional weapons White possesses in three limbs: his left arm and both fleet feet.

"A quarterback who has the ability to run and also can throw is very difficult for a defense," Connecticut head coach Randy Edsell said. "He will probably be a Heisman candidate, maybe this year and the next two years. Hopefully he will come out so we won't have to see him in the final year."

The win tied the WVU school record for consecutive road victories with nine and, barring a Syracuse upset of No. 7 Louisville on Saturday, setup the much-anticipated Nov. 2 showdown between the undefeateds. The win marked the seventh time in school history that West Virginia (7-0, 2-0 Big East) started 7-0. Just two of those teams, however, have gone to 8-0 (1988 and '93).

"It's great to have that extra time to prepare," White said, "to watch film and all that. But I've only been thinking about (Louisville) for a bit. It's the next one, so we do the same thing we do every week and take it one game at a time."

It briefly appeared as though West Virginia had overlooked Connecticut (3-5, 0-2). The Huskies actually stopped WVU short of midfield on its first drive, marking the first time in seven games that the Mountaineers did not score on their first possession. The initial points came on place kicker Pat McAfee's 38-yard field goal with 3:56 left in the first quarter off a nine-play, 44-yard drive for a 3-0 lead.

The series showed that Connecticut would focus on slowing Slaton, who carried 19 times for the 128 yards – 56 coming on a single late scoring run that was the longest of his career – and eliminating the wide receiver screens West Virginia so often utilizes. The first problem was solved by White, the second by a great scout-and-sear by the Mountaineer coaching staff.

After running a swing pass or a receiver screen three times in the first 13 plays, West Virginia faked the screen to wideout Darius Reynaud, sucking up the Connecticut cornerback. That allowed Bolden, who continued downfield, to settle into the vacated area between the safety and the corner for a 25-yard gainer from White. That, on film, will force future foes to play the screen honestly, allowing the Mountaineers, who averaging more than 150 yards in 20-plus yard plays alone each game, a little more time to complete the pass and get upfield.

Connecticut did answer with a whopping 15-play, 60-yard drive that tied the game at 3-3 on sophomore place kicker Tony Ciaravino's first career field goal attempt, from 29 yards out. The kick was forced by a stop on third and eight from the 12-yard line when West Virginia brought outside pressure and quarterback Matt Bonislawski threw quickly into the end zone, where the pass was played by two WVU defensive backs, leading to a drop by Eric Wicks. It was the sixth consecutive incompletion to begin the game for Bonislawski, who started 0-for-7 before finally connecting with tailback Terry Caulley (13 carries for 43 yards) on a shovel pass on third and 16 with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

The senior, who completed eight of 20 passes for 58 yards and threw one interception before being replaced by backup D.J. Hernandez, did not complete a downfield pass until the eight-minute mark of the first half, (though he then hit four in a row) after White's 45-yard keeper run through the middle of the defense on the very next WVU series put UConn down 13-3. The run came on the first snap following the punt exchange.

By then West Virginia had already also added another McAfee field goal with 11 minutes left in the half, this from 39 yards, to go ahead 6-3. The field goal came after a short kick and personal foul during the UConn kickoff put the ball at the WVU 49-yard line to start its third possession. The drive stalled when Slaton lost five yards on first and 10 from the Connecticut 17 and the linesman badly missed a pass interference or holding on Connecticut when receiver Brandon Myles was grabbed on a flag route into the end zone.

West Virginia added a third McAfee field goal, this from 48 yards, a career long for the sophomore (previous was 43), for a 23-3 lead with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter. White then hit Bolden for the 30-3 edge before Hernandez ran five yards for a touchdown with 7:22 left to bring UConn within 30-11, when Caulley ran up the middle for the two-point conversion.

Slaton's 56-yard touchdown run with 5:26 left capped the scoring. It was the West Virginia third drive of three or fewer plays resulting in a touchdown in the game. Slaton, whose previous long run was 52 yards four different times, went over 100 yards on the play, finishing an average of 6.7 yards per carry and the score.

White's offensive output overshadowed a superior defensive performance by WVU's defense. The 3-3-5 odd stack allowed just 95 ground yards on 33 carries by the nation's ninth-ranked rushing offense and limited UConn to 210 yards on 67 offensive plays overall, an average of just 3.1 per snap. The Huskies, sacked three times for 24 negative yards, were an abysmal four of 15 on third downs and got into the red zone just three times all game despite having decent field position twice because of turnovers.

The Mountaineers also recorded two interceptions, part of a very solid secondary showing. The last pick, by Vaughn Rivers, was a thing a beauty. The corner broke on badly-lofted ball after Hernandez was on his way to being dropped by defensive lineman Warren Young. He closed on the toss along the sideline, then managed to, at full speed, cradle the ball and get both feet down in bounds to secure the possession-changer deep inside West Virginia territory.

"I never felt comfortable the whole game," Bonislawski said. "Their speed was evident, in the secondary and up front. They made plays on the night and we didn't. They just have some talent there that we don't have. They are a very good football team."

Notes: UConn fell to 0-10 against ranked team with the loss. Three of those have come at Rentschler Field. The Huskies' schedule is rated the toughest in the nation. The Mountaineers were the highest-ranked team to every play Connecticut, which had won all its Big East home openers until now.

*West Virginia and Connecticut have yet to play on a Saturday in three series games (WVU leads 3-0). The two prior meetings were both on Wednesdays. The Huskies are playing the longest regular season schedule in the nation this year, from Aug. 31 to Dec. 2, the full 94 days allowed by the NCAA. They are one of only six teams currently slated to do so, though others could if they advance to a conference championship game.

*The win was the third win in five weeks on natural grass for West Virginia, which has an all-time losing record on the surface.

McAfee was the first player to hit three field goals against Connecticut since Georgia Tech's Travis Bell on Nov. 13, 2002.

UConn's 11 points marked the first time the Huskies have scored 11 in a game since 1965, when it dropped a 12-11 decision to Temple. WVU moved to 39-0 when scoring 30 or more points since 2000. The win was West Virginia's 25th in the Big East since 2000; it is 25-4 overall in the league since then.


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