White ran for 186 yards and scored two touchdowns as No. 3 West Virginia clinched at least a share of its fourth Big East title in five years to move one step closer to the BCS championship with a 66-21 win over No. 20 Connecticut on Saturday. The Huskies had no answer for White, who manufactured key plays where there were none and created space in what seemed a vacuum. He ran for first downs on third and long to setup Steve Slaton. He exploited any holes in UConn's otherwise stout defense. And he once again broke not only the backs, but the spirit of the opposition as well.
"I think he is the best football player in the country," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I am biased. But Pat has done it his entire career. When plays aren't there he makes plays. When plays are there he makes them even better. I am glad he is wearing the blue and gold for West Virginia. He was the Big East player of the year last year and he is better this season. I am glad he is with us. He is one of the best that has ever played for West Virginia and he is not done yet."
On one zigzagging run – this on third and 15 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter – White dropped to pass, then suddenly took off, starting right and darting left for a 24-yard touchdown run that left a trio of defenders in his wake and gave WVU(10-1, 5-1 Big East) a 31-14 lead on its opening possession of the second half. The run had play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi labeling the Heisman candidate "Mr. Magic" in a fit of euphoria. And from then on, the celebration kicked into full gear.
With White, West Virginia knew it would win from there. He had brought them victory in the face of adversity three weeks ago with the game tied against Louisville. He had won two major bowl games with his guts and feet. And he had used a workmanlike performance in the 28-23 win at Cincinnati to setup this BCS elimination game. He wouldn't lose now.
"They are right where you can play the best game you could imagine and you'll still come out on the wrong end of the scoreboard," Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall said. "I'm not ready to say there is anybody better than Pat White. I think he is the best player in college football."
White, who also completed nine of 13 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown, led West Virginia to a whopping four more scores in the first 17 minutes of the second half to run the difference to 59-14 before the crowd of 59,701 could no longer contain itself. After five consecutive scores, all by different players that showed WVU's uber-balance, chants of "BCS, BCS!" began to resound at Mountaineer Field. Those continued when backup tailback Ed Collington punched in to make the score 66-14 with more than seven minutes left. It was the most points scored by the Mountaineers this season, and the most since an 80-7 win over Rutgers in 2001.
That was just the start of the numerical feast. West Virginia totalled 624 yards of offense, 517 of which came on the ground. It was the most rushing yards since WVU had 536 against East Carolina in 2002 and the third-most total offensive yards ever under seventh-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, behind the 641 against Pitt last year and 627 versus Rutgers in the 80-7. It was the fourth time West Virginia eclipsed the 600-yard mark under Rodriguez.
"We ran into an outstanding football team and one that I hope goes out and claims a national championship," Edsall said. "They have an opportunity because they are just that fast and that talented athletically and their defense is playing very, very well. They have Steve and Owen in their blocking for them and then Noel (Devine), who might be the best. But it's Pat who holds the whole thing together."
White and Slaton both went over 1,000 rushing yards, marking the third time in NCAA history that two teammates have gone over 1,000-yard mark in consecutive seasons. White and Slaton are the first quarterback-running back duo to do so; Arkansas' Felix Jones and Darren McFadden went over 1,000 earlier this season for a second straight year, and Minnesota's Marion Barber III and Lawrence Maroney accomplished the feat in 2003 and '04. The Mountaineers have had a 1,000-yard rusher 11 of the last 12 seasons.
In the midst of the second half, the Mountaineers pieced together six touchdowns in seven possessions. The lone miscue was White's interception in the red zone on a play in which he likely could have run the ball to at least the 10. The quarterback, while others around him like Devine (118 yards) and Jock Sanders (58 yards) were gashing defenses, managed 11.6 yards per carry. His 186 yards coming one game after he rushed for 155 in a win over then-No. 22 Cincinnati, and if it wasn't evident before, it's obvious now: This team is Pat White's. It's no coincidence the lone time West Virginia lost this season was with White injured. The lefty, who does everything else right, has gained more than 100 yards rushing five times this season, and went over the 1,000 yard mark for the second straight year.
Connecticut, which entered allowing just 14 points per game, gave up its most points of the season and lost a chance to get into its first BCS bowl game. It did score on its opening possession and manage to stay in the game until midway through the third quarter, when the combined execution of WVU's offense and defense simply overwhelmed the Huskies (9-3, 5-2) to the tune of 9.9 yards per carry and just 82 yards of second half offense for UConn.
"I am proud of them," said Rodriguez, who got his 60th win at West Virginia. "We won another championship. It's neat to win them. There is always another team coming up and challenging, but we have responded well. It's the third straight year we have won 10. I think it is to the point where when you talk about the top 10-15 programs in the country you mention West Virginia. It's nice, but we got one more against a rival in another tough ball game. We have stayed the course. We control our own destiny, but you have to get to the national championship to talk about the national championship. You have to get there before you can win it. If we win the next game, we get there, I think."
Indeed. The combination of then-No. 1 LSU's 50-48 overtime home loss to Arkansas with the recent downfalls of Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and others have finally cleared the way, with one major hurdle remaining: the 100th Backyard Brawl against rival Pitt.
"It's the biggest game in my lifetime," White said. "The Backyard Brawl. I don't think it will be tough to be focused. This team is focused. We were today, and it will carry into next week. We will be ready."
They had better be. With moving up into the No. 2 slot, the country is now taking aim, hoping another high ranking will prove a boom to BCS berth hopes. The Mountaineers have clinched at least a BCS bid. But that's not enough for this team, not now.
"There isn't too much motivation you have to add to that game," WVU corner and Pittsburgh native Vaughn Rivers said. "But knowing our national championship chances are on the line, you don't have to worry about us showing up to play. I could not have written the story better. My last game at Mountaineer Field against my hometown team with a chance to go to the national championship."
The players know it. They also know how big this win was. Rodriguez bear hugged his wife and twirled her around. Schmitt ran into the Mountaineers' marching band section and started banging on a bass drum. Larry Williams hoisted the ‘Flying WV' flag. Mortty Ivy simply hoisted his helmet after playing his best game as a Mountaineer, with 11 tackles and three for loss, with two sacks.
The entire state is on the brink of its biggest celebration since 1993, when undefeated West Virginia beat Boston College in a season finale rally from 14-3 down with nine minutes left. But even them, the Mountaineers did not control their own destiny. One has to go back to 1988 for that, when WVU beat Syracuse 31-9 to clinch a berth in the national championship game. Now, the Mountaineers are there again, and with two more wins will do what was thought unfathomable at the end of September.
"It has been that way for years; We are a small state with a lot of prideful people," Rodriguez said. "They follow our programs whether it's football or basketball. We have tremendous support. For the size of our school and our state, we probably have more private support than any school in the country. It's humbling to have that, and I am fortunate to be the coach here.
"We want to finish the deal next week in a big rivalry game. I am sure we will have our teams' attention. I have not had a championship that wasn't really good. I think after we lost to South Florida, there was not much talk about West Virginia. Our guys kept doing what they were doing and stuck to it. There was not a change in their mentality or focus. We needed some help outside and we got it and took care of business ourselves. It's gratifying, but we are not done yet."