Did you see the movie ‘We Are Marshall’, which was based upon the horrible plane crash which killed virtually all of the players and coaches, and highlighted the rebuilding of the Marshall football team?
The new Marshall coaches travelled to Morgantown to discuss ideas for rebuilding the football team with WVU Coach Bobby Bowden’s staff.
One idea the marshall coaches considered was creating an offense which did not require top flight offensive linemen. The Mountaineers had experienced success by having nearly all ‘blue collar’ players on the OL.
If you reflect back to when Art “Pappy” Lewis came on the scene in the 1950’s, the backfield has produced many players that made it to the NFL while few members of the OL were even drafted by the pros.
Over the years, fewer players from the OL have made it to the NFL than any other position. You can only speculate at the reasons why, but the situation has undeniably existed. Neither the numbers nor the coaches lie. WVU has historically had difficulty recruiting top flight offensive line talent, while having surprising success with running backs.
To compensate for this dilemma the Mountaineers have used spread offensive sets, beginning with head coaches Jim Carlen and Bobby Bowden. Bowden also created complex passing plays and introduced a concept which was later successfully used by Coach Don Nehlen, utilizing the quarterback to stretch and extend plays.
The theory behind the concept is it is easier to recruit one good quarterback than five talented offensive linemen.
Many of the high school quarterbacks WVU targeted were being recruited by others to play defense. The best example of this is Major Harris. Everyone wanted ‘the Maj’ to play defense except WVU. Harris turned into the first true dual threat QB for Coach Nehlen.
That class also was one of the few to produce a handful of more talented players along the offensive front. The combination of the two produced the 1988 team which finished 11-0 and played Notre Dame for the national championship.
Former Mountaineer Coach Rich Rodriguez’s entire offense revolves around a quarterback who can not only stretch the play, but many times to create it. Tremendous pressure was put on Pat White to improvise, which he often did with amazing success.
During White’s time at quarterback, WVU had a class of extremely hard working offensive lineman who possessed little athletic ability. For as long as I have been following the Mountaineers, I have not seen a better model to justify the offensive concept than with White.
One athletically gifted quarterback made up for the lack of natural ability of the front five. It should be noted that this circumstance produced a long line of mobile quarterbacks, the first being Ben Williams, who played under Bowden.
Others that followed were Oliver Luck, Jeff Hostetler, Jake Kelchner, Darren Studstill, Rasheed Marshall, and to a lesser degree Geno Smith.
Most people do not view WVU’s style of play as cutting edge for football innovation. But consider: Carlen was ahead of his time by really evolving the idea of recruiting diverse athletes for a school which was considered southern; Bobby Bowden, Don Nehlen, and Rich Rod evolved the concept of the athletic quarterback.
Consider where they stand nationally with that policy today. We now have Coach Dana Holgorsen including a mobile QB in his fast paced spread offenses to add an additional threat. . Our friend Nick Saban was very complimentary of the WVU offensive scheme against Alabama last year.
Fans are proud of the WVU Mountaineers and have a right to be.
Written by Don Pownell, BGS Contributor
Geno Smith photo credit USA Today
Edited by Michael Walker, BGS Senior writer and Lead editor