West Virginia's Devine tries to regain form
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There's an unofficial website that promotes West Virginia running back Noel Devine for the Heisman Trophy.
It hasn't been updated since the Mountaineers' win over Maryland on Sept. 18. That's probably because WVU's senior running back hasn't been the same since.
Devine bruised a bone in his foot against LSU and has been limited in games.
"Noel isn't a guy that's going to walk around with a neon light that says 'I'm hurt,' because he's a tough man," WVU coach Bill Stewart said.
The Mountaineers' offense hasn't been as successful without Devine fully healthy. Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen has incorporated more passing plays to deal with Devine being limited.
Against UNLV and South Florida, the Mountaineers opened the game in a five-wide receiver set.
"He's our playmaker and our home-run hitter. He can score from anywhere on the field. So, if you take him out, it hurts all aspects of our offense," wide receiver Brad Starks said.
In the first half of games since Devine's injury, the Mountaineers have thrown an average of three more passes than they did in the first three games of the season. WVU (5-2, 1-1 Big East Conference) is also averaging 63.8 yards less per game on the ground with Devine at 100 percent.
"I don't know how he feels, but he'll continue to run hard and continue to be the great player he's been," WVU quarterback Geno Smith said.
Devine has tried to play through the injury, but he went through a string of three straight games without a 100-yard performance. Devine had 122 yards rushing Saturday against Syracuse.
"We don't need any superstars. We don't need Batman and Robin capes flying around the stadium," Stewart said of Devine's play over the last few games. "He just needs to do a little bit more."
Stewart said Devine was not at 100 percent against Syracuse and wasn't sure if he had his pre-injury speed back.
"It was good to have him back at gaining over 100 yards," Stewart said. "Noel played very well. He just failed to make a couple guys miss. But did (Syracuse) make good tackles• Yes."
Devine is expected to be healthy Friday when the Mountaineers take on Connecticut (3-4, 1-1).
Devine has had success against the Huskies. He is averaging 7 yards per carry in his three games against them. Last year, he rushed for 178 yards in a 28-24 win.
He will need to have the same success, Starks said, if WVU wants to be have a balanced offense against UConn.
"You need a solid running game to get a solid passing game," Starks said. "As soon as we get the running game going, we'll be fine."
Note: Stewart expects to use tight ends Will Johnson and Tyler Urban equally Friday against Connecticut.
Urban, a Norwin High School graduate, was injured earlier this season, and Johnson has taken the majority of the tight end snaps in the team's past three games.