Then along came Rich Rodriguez and his West Virginia Mountaineers. He took the spread offense to a complete zenith with what you could do with a 53 1/3 yard wide field and implemented a power rushing attack from a spread formation. First he recruited Pat White from Alabama. At 6’0 (being generous) and 185 lbs. he was short for a quarterback and had a decent arm, yet it was his 4.28 40 yard dash that made it nearly impossible for interior linebackers to read blocking patterns, than get to the flank to defend against his options or pitch to Steve Slaton.
Slaton was brought down from Pennsylvania and one of the nation’s fastest running backs coming out of high school in 2005. He had committed to Maryland who had offered him a scholarship then retracted their offer. He took his 4.3 speed to West Virginia to team with Pat White, Owen Schmitt, recievers Darius Reynaud #82 and Brandon Miles#7 and a powerhouse was born. They spread from a traditional set and some 3 receivers yet ran what they call a speed option that most MLBs didnt have the lateral quickness to stay with. The result?? First we have to set the table for you.
The Miami Hurricanes and Boston College had just fled the Big East to join the ACC. Many felt that the Big East was no longer a top flight conference with two of their heavyweight schools having departed. Yet the Mountaineers started a redshirt freshman in Pat White, and a freshman tailback in Steve Slaton and a new offense took the country by storm. They improved as the season went on and Slaton finished the season with 1,128 yards and 17 TDs, while White finished with 952 yds rushing and 7 TDs to go along with moderate passing to keep defenses honest.
Once they ran out to a 10-1 record, their Big East championship gave them an automatic bid to the BCS Sugar Bowl where they would take on Georgia. The Bulldogs that year were 12-1 and only a close loss in SEC play had kept them from appearing in the National Championship Game. Experts scoffed that West Virginia’s offense couldn’t perform that well against a superior defense from a superior conference. Yes experts were treating the Big East as a second tier conference with the remaining teams. So the battle lines were drawn and since the Sugar Bowl had to be moved from New Orleans to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, because of Hurricane Katrina, this would be a home crowd for the Bulldogs too. No way the Mountaineers could stay on the field with an SEC team……………….right??
The Mountaineers had humiliated the Georgia defense rushing for 382 yards. They were within 53 yards of the Sugar Bowl record of 439 that had stood for 35 years. A record was set by Steve Slaton’s 204 yards on 26 carries and 3 scores. West Virginia embarrassed the entire SEC into recognizing the spread offense in front of millions. Since the game recieved a 9.0 Nielsen rating, somewhere around 49 million viewers watched Georgia’s defense give chase but never catch Pat White and Steve Slaton.
So the landscape has changed, first through the proliferation of cable television stations allowing players to play in far away places and still be seen back home. This changed the way colleges could approach players when they weren’t the clear cut favorite to land a particular recruit. Players weren’t forced to switch positions to go to a particular name school when there were other alternatives. This happened simultaneously with the NCAA limiting the amount of scholarships teams which spread talent all over the collegiate landscape.
Then in an effort to find the great equalizer, coaching innovations leveled the playing field even more with better tactics while landing a better athlete on their campus than ever before. Couple these factors with the natural chip on the shoulder that most underdogs play with and college football has turned into “On any given Saturday…” Making college football an even greater game than before.
Yet it was this Sugar Bowl played in prime-time that changed the attitudes of coaches and pundits of the power conferences. From coast to coast teams were using the uptempo spread offense to run as well as pass. Teams could outflank those they couldn’t physically go toe to toe with. Forcing their opponent to field a different set of defenders and players who play better in space. This game was Rich Rodriguez’s masterpiece and changed the way college football is being played today.
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