Wide Open

Lonnie Galloway doesn't see much difference in this Mountaineer team and the one he formerly coached in terms of offensive balance throughout spring. But what a difference for those familiar with West Virginia's spread of old.

Perhaps it's only a comparison to past springs, when the WVU offense was closer to that of a military academy – at least in terms of play selection – than the aerial show it now seems to be. But the unit now seems one that will fun-and-gun, even if that's not truly the case. Patrick White and Jarrett Brown are tossing all over the lot. The receivers have made more plays than the tailbacks, and there's no question there have been more passes thrown this spring than at any time in nearly a decade.

Not since West Virginia had Marc Bulger and a trio of receivers in Shawn Foreman, David Saunders and Khori Ivy, along with an NFL tight end in Anthony Becht, has it practiced the pass game as much as it has this year. That was in 1998, and Bulger ended the season with a record 3,607 passing yards on 274 of 419 throwing to shatter Bernie Galiffa's 1972 mark of 2,946 yards. Foreman and Saunders amassed 948 and 883 yards receiving, respectively, the only time two players have ranked in even the school's top 10 list in the same season – and those two were tucked inside the top four.

One shouldn't expect even remotely similar numbers this year. WVU will be a run-first offense, but one, as coordinator Jeff Mullen notes, that has a "viable option in the passing game." In reality, all the throwing is simply a flexing of the weakest muscle in an attempt to strengthen it.

"The big thing for us is to be able to throw if we have to," said Galloway, who helped coach Appalachain State to a national title last year. "That's one thing we knew we had to practice to be able to throw the ball. All we are trying to do is just help the running game. The bottom line is that we are going to do what we have to do to win. If it's running, it's running. If it's throwing, it's throwing. If it's mixing, that's what we will do. But we are throwing the football. We are throwing the football more than they have, but we are still run blocking and all that."

The schemes haven't totally changed. But a major tweaking has been undertaken in the downfield passing game. Namely, there might just be one. Mullen and first-year head coach Bill Stewart have given White and Brown increasing freedom as they have learned the sets. The plays, at least within the basic framework, don't appear to have changed a great deal. It's a simple case of drilling the snaps time and again and giving receivers like Tito Gonzales, Wes Lyons and an emerging Alric Arnett changes to make catches. Gonzales has been as solid as ever, and Lyons is making strides, both downfield and in the midrange game. Arnett has twice scored touchdowns with 50-plus yard catches, a shock considering he wasn't in the expected two-deep entering spring. But like Gonzales' touchdown catch in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, sometimes players just need opportunities.

"Are we where we want to be?" Galloway said. "No. But there have been some surprises here and there. We just have to get more consistent with all our guys, my guys especially. They had to learn new terminology and new things. The mental mistakes, early, there were a lot. Of late we have cut them down. But we have to get them to the point where it's playing without having to think much. Overall, they have done a good job picking it up."

The corps has made enough plays to cause defensive backs to run steps at times, a rarity any time in the last decade. Part of it is that the secondary is just settling in after losing five starters. But some of it is that the wideouts are blossoming with newfound confidence because of the enthusiasm shown.

"I really like him as a coach," Gonzales said of Galloway. "He knows what we are trying to do and how we can do it. And he knows what receivers go through after being a quarterback. Once we just get a little more understanding, we can start really making plays because we won't be thinking as much. They are giving us opportunities."

Ask and ye shall, if you will.

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