White's three TDs maintain Mountaineers' national-title hopes

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez bear hugged his wife and twirled her around. Fullback Owen Schmitt ran into the Mountaineers' marching band section and started banging on a bass drum.

Strike a chord -- West Virginia (No. 3 BCS, No. 4 AP) is on the brink of a playing for a national championship after beating No. 20 Connecticut 66-21 on Saturday night to clinch the Big East title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

West Virginia (10-1, 5-1 Big East) will move up at least one spot to second in the BCS standings on Sunday following top-ranked LSU's loss to Arkansas on Friday.

With one more win next week against Pittsburgh, the Mountaineers might be headed to the biggest BCS game of all -- the championship game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.

"We want to finish the deal next week in a big rivalry game," Rodriguez said. "We haven't played Pitt with more at stake."

Pat White rushed for 186 yards and accounted for three touchdowns while West Virginia compiled a season-high 517 yards on the ground, its best effort since rushing for 536 in a win over East Carolina in 2002.

Freshman Noel Devine rushed for 118 yards on 11 carries and Steve Slaton had a pair of TD runs, which were set up by long runs by White.

"It was a great performance by us," White said. "The offensive line did an excellent job of blocking. They wore them out. There is a lot of speed in the backfield. It's a little dangerous. It gives defenses headaches."

West Virginia scored 42 second-half points for its sixth straight win since losing 21-13 at South Florida on Sept. 28. White didn't finish that game because of thigh injury. The Mountaineers have made a steady climb in the BCS standings after starting ninth in mid-October.

"I think after we lost to South Florida, there was not much talk about West Virginia," Rodriguez said. "Our guys kept doing what they were doing and stuck to it. There was not a change in their mentality or focus. We needed some help outside and we got it and took care of business ourselves. It's gratifying, but we are not done yet."

Connecticut's dreams of a BCS berth in only its fourth season in the conference were dashed in a big way.

UConn was limited to one second-half touchdown and a defense that was ranked third in the nation in points allowed coming in at 14 per game, gave up the most points the Huskies have permitted in seven years. They also allowed 66 to Middle Tennessee in 2000.

Connecticut had the fewest turnovers in the Big East but West Virginia had three takeaways and turned them into touchdowns. UConn's Tyler Lorenzen was sacked five times and completed 14 of 28 passes for 151 yards and one score.

Connecticut coach Randy Edsall was too much in awe of West Virginia's performance to belittle his own team.

"We just ran into an outstanding football team and one that I hope goes and wins a national championship," Edsall said.

West Virginia claimed at least a share of its fourth Big East title in five seasons and will make its second BCS trip in three years. The Mountaineers beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season.

White's fourth straight 100-yard rushing effort should improve his status in the Heisman Trophy race. He has 1,144 yards this season, along with 1,498 yards passing. Slaton added 54 yards on the ground and now has 1,042 for the season.

White and Slaton became only the third pair of teammates in the Football Bowl Subdivision to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in consecutive seasons, matching Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones this year and Minnesota's Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney in 2003-04.

White had a 3-yard TD run in the first quarter and made several defenders miss when he reversed direction and scored on a 24-yard run in the third quarter for a 31-14 lead.

"I'm not going to say there's anybody better than Pat White," Edsall said. "I think he's the best player in college football. He has my vote."