Switzer Likes West Virginia's Innovative Spread Offense

Still, the former Oklahoma coach won't be rooting for the Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl

Dec. 24, 2007

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Shhh, don't say it too loud. Barry Switzer is a fan of West Virginia.

Sort of.

The former Oklahoma coach won't be rooting for the Mountaineers when they face the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl. But he does gush about how West Virginia's no-huddle offense works.

Just as Switzer helped transform Oklahoma's wishbone into the most prolific rushing attack in college football history, West Virginia thrives in the run-based spread formation.

"They've got a playbook that works," Switzer told The Associated Press in a recent telephone interview from Norman, Okla. "I've loved their offense. When I saw them run it the first time, I loved it. I said this is similar to something I would do if I was college coaching again."

It's a system that may be used for the last time at West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, unless coach Rich Rodriguez's successor retains it. Rodriguez was hired at Michigan on Dec. 16 and isn't going to the bowl.

West Virginia annually has one of the nation's top rushing attacks. The 11th-ranked Mountaineers (10-2) can earn a third straight 11-win season -- a feat that can be matched only by Southern Cal and LSU -- if they beat the third-ranked Sooners (11-2) on Jan. 2.

Since the arrival of running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White three years ago, West Virginia has averaged 274 yards rushing or better per game and ranked no worse than fourth in the nation on the ground.

Switzer remembers seeing White as a freshman two years ago, when he led the Mountaineers to a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

White has surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in 2006 and 2007. He had a career-high 247 yards against Syracuse last year and became the eighth player in NCAA history to throw and pass for more than 200 yards in a 2006 game against Pittsburgh.

"They're more deceptive than the wishbone. The wishbone was an east-west offense," Switzer said. "This offense he runs is more deceptive because you run counters, you run options off the counters. It's just totally lined up to be able to go misdirection."


 

 

It took several years for Rodriguez's offense to attain its run-oriented label. It is rooted in the run-and-shoot passing gallery of Mouse Davis, who served as offensive coordinator in 1988-90 with the Detroit Lions.

Rodriguez took over at then-NAIA Glenville State in 1990 but won just one game and started his current system in 1991. He knew he couldn't match the size of opposing defenses, so he got innovative, going without a huddle with the quarterback in shotgun formation and spreading out the field.

In 1993, Glenville's Jed Drenning threw for 3,593 yards and wide receiver Chris George caught 117 passes. George still holds Division II records for single-season receiving yards (1,876) in 1993 and single-game catches (23) in 1994.

By 1997, Rodriguez had become Tommy Bowden's offensive coordinator at Tulane. Shaun King threw for 3,500 yards and 38 touchdowns the following season, with Rodriguez seeing him as another running back. King gained 633 yards on the ground, ranking third on the team.

Rodriguez followed Bowden to Clemson, where Woody Dantzler became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a regular season.

Rodriguez took over at West Virginia in 2001. Rasheed Marshall continued Rodriguez's trend of rushing quarterbacks, compiling 861 yards in 2004. White took over in the middle of the 2005 season and has gone 25-4 as a starter and has rushed for a Big East quarterback record with 3,356 yards.

Coaches have come from all over to West Virginia each winter to pick up tidbits of the spread formation and see if it might work in their own systems. Usually the coaches are from programs that don't play the Mountaineers.

Urban Meyer studied the spread scheme before his coaching stints at Bowling Green and Utah.

After Tulane went 12-0 in 1998 and averaged 45 points per game, Northwestern paid a visit to Rodriguez and introduced the system to the Big Ten. Rodriguez said later he may have given away too much information.

Other coaches came to Morgantown from places like Ohio State, Nebraska, Florida State and Michigan-beater Appalachian State to take notes. And next fall, Michigan fans will have the spread on their side.

"Coaches are great copycats," Rodriguez said before taking the Michigan job. "They'll see an idea or two from here and there. And we're such a competitive profession that coaches will study as much as they can in the offseason and put a plan together. If the thing matches right with a couple of talented skill players and some coaches that get players believing in their system, then anything can happen."

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