By Joe Starkey
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006,
They're revving up for "Blackout Thursday" in Louisville, asking fans to wear black to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for the wildly anticipated Big East showdown against West Virginia.
I'm thinking it might be more of a White-out.
I'm thinking West Virginia's sensational sophomore quarterback, Pat White, will seize the national spotlight and prove to be the difference in a game that's being called the biggest in Louisville history.
It pits the third-ranked Mountaineers against the fifth-ranked Cardinals -- and the loser can forget about a national championship.
Everybody knows about White's running ability, though you might not know he has more rushing yards (619) and touchdowns (seven) through seven games than Vince Young had through seven games with Texas last season.
You also might be surprised to learn that White -- just 12 starts into his collegiate career -- already has vaulted past Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb on the career rushing list for Big East quarterbacks and should own the record by the end of the season.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano used to scheme against Vick when Schiano ran Miami's defense and Vick, playing for Virginia Tech, ran through defenses like no quarterback we'd ever seen. Schiano told me preparing for White's speed is every bit as daunting.
What people don't talk about enough is White's passing ability and leadership skills. His father, Bo White Sr., lent me some insight on the latter before last season's Sugar Bowl.
Bo knows a leader when he sees one. He runs a 60-person fire department in Prichard, Ala.
"On the field, he's possessed," Bo said of his son. "All his life, he never wanted to lose at anything. Those sweat bubbles would jump up on his nose. That was usually the sign of a mean kid, but with him, it just meant he couldn't stand to lose."
Before the season, I picked Louisville to win the conference, but that was before star tailback Michael Bush was lost with a leg injury. Without Bush, Louisville cannot counter WVU's lethal one-two punch of White and tailback Steve Slaton.
Besides, Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm has underachieved this season, partially because of a thumb injury. He has only four touchdown passes -- and three interceptions -- in 4 1/2 games.
NFL scouts no doubt prefer the 6-foot-4 Brohm, a classic pocket passer who also is an excellent leader. I'll take White, whose coming-out party, you'll recall, occurred in the Louisville game last year, when he replaced injured starter Adam Bednarik and rallied the Mountaineers from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit.
You could practically see the sweat bubbles forming as White sparked the comeback with a manic 17-yard run on fourth-and-10 from the Louisville 28, five minutes into the fourth quarter. He also made some clutch passes, including the winning two-point conversion toss to Dorrell Jalloh.
"You take Slaton away, and you still have to contend with White -- his legs and his arm," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "It's very hard to defend them because they're not one-dimensional. Pat White is a much better passer this year than what he was a year ago."
Nobody's going to confuse White with Carson Palmer as a pure passer, but he has a way of rising to the occasion. In the Sugar Bowl, for example, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown in a 38-35 victory over Georgia.
West Virginia doesn't pass often -- why should it• -- but White makes the most of his opportunities and has some game-breaking receivers. He ranks second, behind Pitt's Tyler Palko, in the Big East in passing efficiency (153.6), completing 68.8 percent of his passes.
Most important, White is 12-0 as a starter. Unless I miss my guess, he'll be 13-0 by late Thursday evening.
Get ready for a White-out.
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