Injury to Noel Devine forces WVU's hand at RB
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When West Virginia starting running back Noel Devine was hit out of bounds two weeks ago against LSU, the Mountaineers' coaching staff was forced to change its game plan a bit.
Head coach Bill Stewart and his offensive coaches decided to put fullback Ryan Clarke in for Devine and move reserve fullback Matt Lindamood into the starting spot.
"We would sure liked to have had him," Stewart said of the Mountaineers' 20-14 loss to LSU. "You just pick up the saber and go to the next one. You'd love to have him in the game for the complete game. I'd love to have him healthy."
Devine was injured in the first quarter when he was tackled out of bounds by an LSU linebacker. The tackle was ruled too late and a 15-yard personal foul penalty was flagged. He bruised a bone near his big toe when he fell to the ground. Stewart was visibly upset with the play after the game.
Devine played on one drive in the first half following the injury and took the majority of the carries in the second half for the WVU offense. But, he was less effective following the injury.
"It definitely threw a wrench in the plan, when very early in the first quarter we were told Noel was down," said offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
Stewart said last week he expects Devine to be back in the starting lineup Saturday against UNLV. If not, though, Stewart said the coaching staff could use receivers Tavon Austin or Jock Sanders in the backfield against the Rebels, because the team has two weeks to prepare for such a situation.
"I don't think it's necessary to have an emergency plan," Stewart said. "Now, that being said, if (Devine) were to get hurt and be out for a week, we would have 10 or 11 days to get ready, you may see someone back there like a Jock. At this point, it's going to be what we've done."
Mullen said he didn't want to put a true freshman like backup running back Trey Johnson in the game at LSU in such a tough environment.
Stewart has said in the past that when Devine leaves, Austin would be the Mountaineers' starting running back. In fact, he was so demonstrative at saying so earlier this season that he added, "and I don't care who knows it."
Yet, West Virginia went with Clarke against the Tigers.
When Clarke went in for Devine against LSU, he fumbled on his first carry inside the Mountaineers' own red zone. That led to LSU's first touchdown. He rushed for 12 yards on seven attempts when replacing Devine.
"We want to get (Sanders, Devine and Austin) the ball. It all starts with (Devine). If our run game is not there, it kind of goes uphill," Mullen said.
"That's not an excuse. Ryan Clarke is a capable backup. We tried to call some football plays to be successful in that situation."
With Clarke in at running back, Lindamood played a greater role in the offense, as well. It was something, he said, he didn't necessarily expect to happen.
"When Noel went down in the first quarter, they ended up putting me in at fullback and Ryan Clarke in at tailback, so I would go in where Ryan would go in, and he would go in for Noel," Lindamood said. "They just said, 'you're going to be in at fullback and Ryan's going to be in at tailback, and we'll go from there.' "