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A Tale Of Two Quarterbacks: Will The Wildcat Make Way For Pat White?

Published: April 21, 2009

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There has been a lot of talk about the “wildcat” offense since Miami started lining Chad Pennington up at receiver and Ronnie Brown under center last season. 

It started as a buzz or considered a gimmick, but now other teams are implementing it at least as a wrinkle in their offensive scheme. In fact, there is little doubt that fans will see various forms of the offense every Sunday this fall.

West Virginia has a tale of two eerily similar quarterbacks, and a tale of two fates. The wildcat offense is likely the key to getting the latest installment of a versatile Mountaineer quarterback drafted in the early rounds this year.

Rewind to 1988. Major Harris, West Virginia’s new breed of quarterback, was a great runner and passer. 

Harris is remembered as being a great passer and a good runner. The 6′1″ 207-pound Pittsburgh native led the Mountaineers to an undefeated regular season in 1988, before getting injured in the Fiesta Bowl and losing to Notre Dame 34-21.

Harris capped off a fantastic sophomore campaign by finishing third in Heisman voting behind Houston’s Andre Ware and Anthony Thompson of Indiana.

He followed with a junior performance that landed him fifth in Heisman voting for the 1989 season.

Harris ended the year with an impressive box score totaling 936 yards rushing and 2,058 yards passing for 2,994 yards of total offense.

The fleet-footed, strong-armed Harris was lured out of college after his junior season, only to be a 12th round pick by the Raiders, never to take one NFL snap and playing sparingly in an injured plagued season north of the border in the Canadian Football League.

Fast forward back to 2008. West Virginia is back to it’s old tricks, once again with the nation’s most versatile quarterback behind center.

Pat White is a senior and the secret is out on a national level after three bowl wins, including two Bowl Championship Series wins over Georgia and Oklahoma. 

White is the nation’s most versatile and exiting quarterback. In contrast to Harris, White is known as a great runner and a good passer.

White’s senior season was highlighted by breaking the all-time rushing record in college football by a quarterback and a win in the Mieneke Car Care Bowl over the University of North Carolina.

With the addition of offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, the West Virginia offense changed. 

This gave White the opportunity to throw the ball more, which resulted in the lowest rushing total of his four-year career in Morgantown. White ended the year with 2,816 yards of total offense.

The difference between total offense of the two quarterbacks in their final season at WVU was just a little more than 150 yards. 

Harris had the advantage by about 200 passing yards with White making up ground with close to 40 more rushing yards.

Statistically, in their last season at WVU, the quarterbacks are almost dead even. In style, they are not far off, either. White is a little faster, Harris was a little better passer and weighed a few more pounds.

For all intents and purpose, the two would be interchangeable in either DonNehlen’s 1989 offense or in Bill Stewart’s 2008 offense.

The result of where the careers end will also likely be extremely different. When the commissioner steps to the podium to begin the draft on Saturday, White will likely begin his countdown to hearing his name called on the first day of the draft, being projected to be taken in the first four rounds.

On the same day in 1990, Major Harris had to wait until round 12 to hear his name called and then was never really given a chance to be a quarterback in the NFL.

The difference in draft status is 18 years and an offensive mindset change.  

At this point, it looks like Harris was just ahead of his time as a quarterback and if the draft were today, chances are he would find himself also drafted on the first day of the draft, possibly even higher than White.

The wildcat offense has changed things. Some teams, general managers, and coaches are salivating at the prospect of having the most athletically gifted quarterback in the draft on their squad in White. 

He has proven he can run the spread and operate in a traditional offense as well, which is what the “wildcat” offense is made of—a mixing of the two.

Where college football’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks will play professional football will be determined this weekend, we’ll never know how Harris would have fared if fate had dealt him the same offensive hand. 

The world will hold their collective breath to see what impact the latest addition from the Mountaineer arsenal will give to the NFL and the new found love of the wildcat offense.