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West Virginia hopes to rev up offense versus Tar Heels

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
On Tuesday, the West Virginia football team visited Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte as part of the Meineke Car Care Bowl week festivities. Several players took a spin around the track in a NASCAR ride, squeezing into the passenger seat while their driver reached speeds of up to 170 m.p.h.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," receiver Alric Arnett said. "But I don't think I'll do it again."

The Mountaineers (8-4) know a little something about speed, but their offense has been stuck in neutral more often than not this season. If they want to beat North Carolina on Saturday (ESPN, 1 ET), they likely will have to find a way to get that attack back on track.

An offense that routinely scored more than 30 points a game for the past several years finished this season averaging just 24 points per game. It really stalled in the last two weeks, scoring 28 total points in against Pittsburgh and South Florida. Even with star quarterback Pat White at the controls, West Virginia has huffed and puffed to find the end zone all year.

"If you look at the offense we had the three years prior to this we rarely put up less than 24 points," offensive lineman Greg Isdaner said. "We've had our ups and downs this year, and a lot of it has to do with inconsistency. It's still only Year One of this coaching staff, and these things take time. Every time you put in something new, you usually have situations like this."

The efforts of first-year head coach Bill Stewart and new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen to install more downfield passing has yielded mixed results. It has given White and the team more options against the defense, but at times it has also taken away what the offense does best.

The lack of experienced and dependable big-play receivers has also limited the pasing game. While six different players have caught at least 11 balls this season, the team's leaders in receptions are Jock Sanders and Noel Devine -- a running back/slot hybrid and a tailback. In the last three games of the season, White completed just 56 percent of his passes while averaging only 135 yards through the air.

"We just haven't been on point the last couple of games," said Arnett, who's third on the team with 28 catches this season. "We've got to go out there and execute every aspect of game -- blocking, getting proper depth on our routes, everything. We've just got to be perfect."

The Tar Heels (8-4) will provide an interesting challenge for the Mountaineers' offense.

North Carolina can plug up the middle with run stuffers like 330-pound tackle Cam Thomas and 300-pounder Marvin Austin. It also has swift linebackers and ends who can string out the West Virginia option game. The defensive backfield is aggressive and finished eighth in the country with 19 interceptions, led by Trimane Goddard's seven. West Virginia expects coach Butch Davis to bring a lot of help up against the running game and dare White to beat one-on-one coverage on his wide receivers.

"We think there are some things that maybe we can take advantage of," Arnett said. "They like to load up with eight men in the box, so we're going to try and take some shots downfield vertically and go across the middle with some dig routes."

Can White hit enough of those passes to soften up the defense for the running game? Can Devine -- who either was or wasn't in Stewart's doghouse at the end of the year, depending on whom you believe -- show the same big-game ability he flashed in last season's Fiesta Bowl? And which West Virginia offense will show up -- the one that scored over 30 points against Louisville, Connecticut and Auburn, or the one that broke down so many other times this year?

"We realize that if we bring our 'A' game, we can play against anybody," Isdaner said. "Yeah, we've had some tough breaks and we know we've been off a little bit. But we're still a good team, we believe."