MORGANTOWN - It's easy to forget now, 10 years after the fact, that when Rich Rodriguez arrived at West Virginia he came armed with a spread offense that was supposed to throw the ball all over the lot.
It had happened that way at virtually every stop along his coaching trail, from Glenville to Tulane to Clemson. There was little reason to believe it would not happen in Morgantown.
Yet after attempting 357 passes during a 3-8 first season in 2001 - at the time that was the eighth-highest total in school history - Rodriguez's team never came close to that again. Despite the fact that each of his final six teams played at least one and sometimes two more games, they averaged less than 250 attempts per season.
In 2005, the Mountaineers threw the ball just 193 times. They ran it, meanwhile, more than three times as much - 625 times. That was certainly not the expectation when Rodriguez was hired, but after 58 wins in those final six seasons absolutely no one could challenge the results.
We bring that up today because not since the Don Nehlen-to-Rodriguez move a decade ago has there been such an expected dramatic shift in the way West Virginia is now expected to play offensive football. Dana Holgorsen arrives having constructed some of the nation's most potent offenses in recent years primarily with a pass-first philosophy.
As Shannon Dawson, one of Holgorsen's handpicked receivers coaches, pointed out last month, West Virginia's penchant for throwing roughly 25 passes per game is about to change.
"We'll throw it that many times in the first half,'' Dawson said.
But will they?
As West Virginia's spring practice period reaches the halfway point, there is certainly little reason to believe that the ball won't be thrown more in 2011 than perhaps in any other season in school history. The 2010 Mountaineers threw it more than all but three previous teams and completed more passes for more yards than all but the Marc Bulger-led 1998 squad, but a betting man would give you great odds that those marks will be shattered this fall.
Still, this is not likely to be Hawaii under June Jones or Houston under Mouse Davis. Running the football isn't going to be a mere afterthought, something to simply keep defenses honest. Holgorsen is working with a roster that was essentially built to run the football, and if anything aside from the emphasis on the pass has become apparent during 21/2 weeks of spring practice it is that all options are open.
Even another of Holgorsen's handpicked aides, running backs coach Robert Gillespie, isn't sure what to expect. There are days when his backs are largely ignored in team settings and others when three are in the backfield at the same time.
Whether this new-look offense eventually tends toward one of those extremes or the other - or settles somewhere in between - is the $64,000 question.
"We fit it to the personnel,'' said Gillespie, who worked with Holgorsen last year at Oklahoma State. "At Oklahoma State, that was the first time we used [the three-back set] because we had great personnel in the backfield. We carried that here and Dana's going to do a good job of figuring out who can do what and try to put guys in the right places.''