Instant Analysis: Gator Bowl

Staff Columnist
Posted Jan 1, 2007

All year long, most of the college football world felt that Steve Slaton was the heart and soul of West Virgina's turbocharged offense. All the while, however, it was really Pat White who meant the most to the Mountaineers, and one wild afternoon in Jacksonville proved as much.

He was bruised and banged up, as a recurrence of an old and nagging injury dogged him throughout a sixty-minute slugfest against a Georgia Tech team that finally played up to the full measure of its capabilities. Pat White played at diminished capacity on a day when Slaton, his more ballyhooed backfield buddy, could barely play at all. And with barely a minute gone in the third quarter, his team trailed the Rambling Wreck by a 35-17 count.

No matter. Pat White would simply not be denied as he announced his enduring greatness to the college football world. The quiet assassin from Daphne, Ala., led his mates to 21 points and then used ball-control running to kill the clock, as his Mountaineers outlasted the Yellow Jackets in a 38-35 thriller.

If not for White's heroics, the first, last and only story of this game would have been the sensational out-of-nowhere performance of Tech's newbie signal caller, Taylor Bennett. Filling in for the academically and ethically compromised Reggie Ball, Bennett completed 67 percent of his passes--about 20 percent higher than Ball--while racking up 335 yards and three touchdowns. Playing with poise, passion and precision, Bennett--who was supported by an inspired effort from teammates who rallied around him--created the feel-good movie of Georgia Tech's up-and-down season. His incredible showing would have merited a banner headline on most days.

But as the folks in Morgantown have known for quite some time, Pat White is a headline-stealing, attention-grabbing player whose excellence is usually good enough to overshadow just about anyone else in college football.

White--the same player who, without an injured Slaton, singlehandedly kept West Virginia competitive at Louisville earlier in the season--once again excelled without his star running back under the most daunting circumstances imaginable. Anything and everything about his performance, but especially its intangible elements that can't be reduced to numbers, indicated why Pat White deserved to be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy awards ceremony. If the Mountaineer signal caller didn't get enough credit from the nation's college football cognoscenti before this game, he should have a boatload of buzz heading into the 2007 season.

Georgia Tech put up a heroic fight, as head coach Chan Gailey brought the very best out of his players while restoring some luster to his own reputation. But while the Yellow Jackets, their coach, and their fresh-faced quarterback won some moral victories on a gray afternoon, Pat White ensured that moral victories would represent Tech's only triumphs in this year-opening yo-yo of a football game.

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