Bluegrass Reflections

Leftover thoughts from this weekend, and a conundrum looking ahead to next.

To his credit, Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe had nothing but good things to say about WVU quarterback Patrick White in the moments after West Virginia's 35-21 win over Kragthorpe's Cardinals on Saturday afternoon in the Derby City.

"Pat's a phenomenal player," Kragthorpe said. "We had him dead-to-rights a couple of times and he gets away. We knew coming into the game we had to stop Pat, but we didn't do that."

Not in the least. White ran for 200 yards and three scores, zooming past former Missouri great Brad Smith in the process to become the NCAA's all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position. He also threw for 122 yards and a pair of scores. The five combined touchdowns moved White past Syracuse legend Donovan McNabb as the Big East's all-time leader in touchdowns responsible for. With three games remaining in his Mountaineer career, those records will only grow.

It was, all things considered, White's best game of the season, yet another magnificent performance in a career full of them. Really, though, could it have happened against any opponent other than Louisville?

After all, it was the Cards – under then-head coach Bobby Petrino – who first felt the wrath of White in 2005 as day turned to night on a chilly October evening in Morgantown. His stats for that game – 5-11 passing for 49 yards and no touchdowns, 11 carries, 69 yards and no scores – certainly don't jump off the page, particularly with the lofty standard that White has set for himself since that time, but it was then that we first saw the special intangibles that define No. 5 to this day. The poise, the leadership, the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the W.

Subbing for injured starter Adam Bednarik, White calmly rallied the Mountaineers back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to ultimately topple Petrino's Cards in three overtimes. Of course White would not relinquish command of the quarterback position for the rest of the season as he led West Virginia to an outright Big East title and a Sugar Bowl triumph over Georgia.

One year later, the Mountaineers went to Louisville on a Thursday night for a clash of the titans. Both teams entered the game undefeated. The Cardinals would win round two, and ultimately go on to win the Orange Bowl. White did all he could to rally the troops again, running for 125 yards and four scores while throwing for 222, but it wasn't enough.

Last season in Morgantown, White delivered another dagger to the Cards and first-year-coach Kragthorpe with his 50-yard dash to paydirt for the game-winning score late in the fourth quarter.

"You've got to give a lot of credit to Pat," Kragthorpe said after that game. "He's a great football player, and he makes a play at the end of the game to win it."

Saturday afternoon in Louisville, White was again at his best, consequently making the Cards look their worst. Add up his career numbers against Louisville and you'll get: 541 rushing yards, 574 passing yards and a combined 10 touchdowns.

"Pat White is a heck of a player," said U of L center Eric Wood, a pretty good player in his own right. "He's got a ton of talent. I'm sure he'll be able to play multiple positions at the next level. Credit him, he made a lot of big plays today."

Just as he always has against the Cardinals.

*****

What a difference two years makes. The aforementioned 2006 primetime affair at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was dubbed a "Blackout" by Louisville officials, and the Cardinals' faithful obliged with one of the most raucous visiting crowds I've seen in my five seasons covering the Mountaineers.

Saturday, U of L officials tried to wake up the echoes by declaring another "Blackout" (strange for a noon game, no?). This time, however, the results were, well, dark. Perhaps a red-out would have been a better call. After all, the thousands of empty red seats throughout the stadium Saturday afternoon would have blended in perfectly.

I personally can't see Louisville football taking a Syracuse-like plunge over the next few years, but that doesn't mean it's not outside the realm of possibility. Saturday was the final home game of the season for Louisville against a rival with a postseason bowl berth still there for the taking with a win over WVU and a win over Rutgers this Thursday night.

Judging from the enthusiasm – or lack thereof – from Louisville's fans on Saturday, it seems like most have already thrown in the towel in 2008.

*****

Louisville's postgame interview setup for visiting teams is laughable, to say the least. WVU head coach Bill Stewart held his postgame press conference in a small storage room surrounded by a chain-linked fence. Apparently, a phone booth wasn't available.

Player interviews, meanwhile, are held in a narrow hallway outside the visitor's locker room. So imagine, if you will, the entire traveling squad – equipment and all – trying to navigate in and out of the hallway while managers, coaches and other WVU personnel try to navigate their way to and from postgame responsibility. Now, add roughly 20-30 media and their recorders, notebooks, microphones, cameras, etc.

If you want a clear picture of what postgame interviews looked like on Saturday afternoon, pop in your "Animal House" DVD and skip to the parade scene when Stork shoves the drum major out of the way and leads the Faber College band down a dead end alley.

*****

Finally, West Virginia's basketball team will travel west later this week for the final two rounds of the Las Vegas Invitational. (Shameless self-plug: Matt Keller and myself will be live from the Orleans Arena to bring the action back here to BlueGoldNews.com).

Of course one team the Mountaineers could potentially face on Saturday is Kentucky. It would mark the second time in four seasons that the neighbors will have met on a neutral court. The Wildcats, of course, dispatched of John Beilein's team in the consolation game of the 2005 Guardians' Classic.

Pardon me for applying logic to collegiate sports, but why should it take an early-season tournament on the other side of the country for these two schools to meet on the hardwood? Morgantown is roughly five hours from Lexington. Both schools have passionate fan bases and storied traditions (UK's admittedly being much deeper).

Hopefully, it won't be long before the Wildcats and Mountaineers will be able to square off at a more conventional location.


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