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August 27, 2009

WVU's Brown out to escape White's shadow

Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Jarrett Brown tends to take his time answering questions, even if he's heard the same ones over and over again.

Usually, those questions involve Pat White, his predecessor as West Virginia's quarterback.

Did Pat White give you any advice before he left? What did you admire most about Pat White? How are you similar to Pat White? How are you different from Pat White?

Brown said he's not entirely comfortable with talking about White ad nauseum, but he also understands he can't stop the questions.

"It won't be over until we play that first game," he said.

Maybe Brown is being overly optimistic. White became the first starting quarterback to win four bowl games, including BCS upsets of Georgia and Oklahoma. He also went 34-8 as a starter and set the NCAA record for rushing yards for a quarterback.

White's shadow is longer than just stats in a record book. His play re-established West Virginia as a national power and turned dozens of college coaches into fans of the spread offense. In other words, the Sept. 5 season opener against Liberty isn't going to stop fans, reporters or broadcasters from talking about White even as Brown takes over the team.

"Pat White's not just a quarterback," Mountaineers linebacker Reed Williams said. "He helped establish this program nationwide. We became a better program through Pat White. Now, it's a different era."

Coach Bill Stewart hammered that point home during the spring. After one practice, he stood in front of the team and handed the ball to Brown in a gesture meant to cement the changing of the guard.

Brown has been waiting for this for four years. He signed in the 2005 class, nine months before White started his first game. Yet even as White took hold of the job and grabbed his spot alongside Sam Huff and Major Harris as the top players in West Virginia history, Brown only briefly considered looking for playing time elsewhere.

"I knew the day would get here," Brown said. "I'll do whatever it takes to be a great leader and a successful quarterback. We have tradition here, and I wanted to keep it going."

Brown has been a capable backup quarterback; now, he's a seasoned fifth-year senior taking over for the best player in the school's recent history.

"He stayed at a school where most guys would probably left," Stewart said. "How would we sit Patrick White down to play him? It's like that pitcher who's good enough to be a starter, but he's on a staff where he's a middle reliever. That's just the way it is."

Brown has started twice in his career when White was injured, but he hasn't had any regular work for WVU, which expects its quarterback to be a running threat.

What can Brown do?

West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown, a fifth-year senior, has had mixed results. He is 2-0 as a starter, but the Mountaineers lost two critical games when Brown played extensively as a backup. Here are some notable games in Brown's career:

Dec. 12, 2006: With Pat White out with an ankle injury, Brown won his first career start in No. 15 West Virginia's 41-39 triple-overtime win over No. 13 Rutgers. Brown was 14-of-29 for 244 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman.

Sept. 28, 2007: White had to leave the game with a thigh bruise in the second quarter against No. 18 USF. Brown was 11-of-20 for 149 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 61 yards in the fifth-ranked Mountaineers' 21-13 loss.

Dec. 1, 2007: With a spot in the national championship game on the line, White hurt his thumb in the second quarter of a home game against unranked Pittsburgh. Brown was 4-of-6 for 29 yards and rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown as WVU lost 13-9 to the Panthers in one of the biggest upsets of that season.

Oct. 11, 2008: Brown won his second career start in a 17-6 victory over Syracuse. White missed the game with a head injury, and the offense struggled. Brown was 14-of-20 passing for only 52 yards, but he did throw a touchdown pass.

"I didn't run in high school [in West Palm Beach, Fla.]," Brown said. "I ran around to buy time until my receivers got open. I ran when I had to, but I was never really a run-first guy."

Stewart hopes to take advantage of Brown's arm. White used his legs to set up the pass. Though he left school as a career 65-percent passer, White never would be confused with a drop-back passer. Brown could be one.

"I've watched it all summer long," Williams said. "It's frustrating when he completes passes right over your head. He can do that. He's got the prettiest ball I've ever seen. He's got a big arm."

Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen hoped to install a more diverse passing game last season, but it never caught on. After an easy opening win over Villanova in which WVU threw for 205 yards and five touchdowns, White passed for 72 yards in a Game 2 loss to East Carolina and just 43 in a Game 3 loss to Colorado.

Stewart said his top offensive goal for this season is to pass more on first down. Brown's arm and the development of the wide receivers should allow that to happen.

Alric Arnett could develop into a go-to target and should be one of the best receivers in the Big East. Speedster Jock Sanders, reinstated earlier this month after a drunken-driving arrest, will play in the slot after leading the team with 53 catches last season. The coaching staff also has high hopes for Wes Lyons, who will cause matchup problems as a 6-foot-8, 231-pound slot receiver.

"We need to get the ball to everyone else in the offense," Stewart said. "When Pat and Stevie [Slaton] were back there, we threw bubble screens to Darius Reynaud. That's what we have to do - get the ball to outside players."

Brown should be able to do that. But there are questions about his supporting cast. The Mountaineers lost four starting offensive linemen, including All-Big East picks Ryan Stanchek and Greg Isdaner. And there's also the question of which Brown will show up consistently this season.

He was outstanding in his first career start, against 10-1 Rutgers in 2006. As a redshirt freshman, Brown guided WVU to a 41-39 triple-overtime win over the No. 13 Scarlet Knights, throwing for 244 yards and a touchdown; he also rushed for 73 yards and a score.

"I was young," Brown said. "I didn't know how big of a game it was. I was able to go out and play."

That has been the high point of his career.

In 2007, he had to come on against USF and Pittsburgh after White was injured during those games. The Mountaineers lost 21-13 to USF, and the 13-9 loss to Pitt - which was 4-7 - knocked the Mountaineers out of the BCS championship game. The West Virginia offense scored a combined two touchdowns in those two losses. In Brown's only start in 2008, the Mountaineers struggled to move the ball in a 17-6 victory over a three-win Syracuse team.

The hope is that the results will change when the offense is tailored fully to Brown's strengths.

Is there anything he's not ready for?

"I'm not ready to lose," Brown said.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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