Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Catching up with the Maj

I was talking to former West Virginia quarterback Major Harris last Friday for a program piece we are planning to run this fall commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1988 season. Toward the end of our conversation we veered off into other areas with Harris offering some interesting viewpoints …

On the similarities between himself and West Virginia quarterback Pat White …
“I think I was more physical as a quarterback. When you’re running the option and you take it up in there you’re basically a running back. I think he is more finesse,” Harris said, adding that White is much, much faster.

“He’s way faster than me. To be honest, I was not that fast. I was probably more quick than fast,” Harris said.

“If I was a running back it would have been a different story if I went up in the hole and tried to take on somebody. As a quarterback it’s easier on you than as a running back if you’re quick. A quarterback can get away with that.”

On coaches opening up their playbooks and attacking all parts of the field …
“The way you call plays a player can tell what type of confidence you’ve got in him,” Harris explained. “That’s one thing I don’t think a lot of coaches realize. Even if you are backed up in your own end zone - if you’re throwing it then the quarterback says, dang, this guy really trusts me. You’ve got to do that because that’s where the confidence comes in. He’s not stupid. He knows if we’re not throwing there it means they don’t trust me.”

On the no-huddle, spread offense that has become the latest fad in college football …
“One thing about the spread, to be honest, I was more comfortable up under center because when you’re back in the shotgun as a quarterback you are out on an island,” he said. “When you are in the shotgun everything is right in your face. For a quarterback to be consistent in a spread offense he’s doing a heck of a job because you are going to have one or two games where things don’t go right.”

Harris’ views on the spread are somewhat ironic considering the roots of the system date back to the single-wing when coaches used to take their best athlete and put him at quarterback to run, throw or kick the ball. What West Virginia did with Major Harris in the late 1980s was essentially an updated version of the single wing and an early version of the spread that is being used so prominently today.

“You take New England in the Super Bowl,” Harris said. “All year they played out of the shotgun but then they ran into a team with a heck of a pass rush and you get no play action. When you are up under center you’ve got the threat of play action to freeze people. If you run up against a good front seven you’re going to have problems with the spread. Even though Tim Tebow won a Heisman and put up great numbers they lost, what, three games or something like that?”

Harris likened it to the days when he played and teams began preparing for the quarterback draw.

“It was almost like when (Don) Nehlen kept calling quarterback draws for me,” Harris said. “That defense is going to catch up with it.

“My thing was, even when I scrambled I was always looking to throw because when I threw it the defense couldn’t prepare for that. Even when I went out of the pocket I was still looking to throw so now they’ve got to freeze,” Harris continued. “Once they froze up I knew I had them.”



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