One thing is clear from Saturday's 28-24 WVU victory over a heroic UConn team: It's better to have Noel Devine than to not have Noel Devine.
WVU won on Saturday because of three plays:
1) Tavon Austin's electrifying 98-yard game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown;
2) Devine's 62-yard run to set up Tyler Urban's touchdown catch; and
3) Devine's 56-yard touchdown run to win the game.
I figured the game was over once UConn's Marcus Easley eluded the entire WVU defensive backfield for an 88-yard touchdown catch and run, and not because it put UConn ahead. I figured it was over because it put UConn back on defense.
Emotion is useless—in fact, it can be counter-productive—on offense, which relies on execution and discipline. Defense, alternatively, relies on emotion, will, and aggression.
Playing for their fallen teammate, the Huskies had WVU right where they wanted it.
But Devine changed that when he swooped around the sealed tight left end of UConn's defensive line and tight-roped his way to the winning touchdown.
Here it's important to stop and note something: Everyone talks about Devine's exceptional speed and quickness, and both are true. But Devine cracked off both long runs against UConn because of his beastly strength.
During the first run, he simply sloughed a defender off his back to continue the run. During the second, he endured a shove that would have pushed a lesser man out of bounds. But not Devine. That's what's truly impressive about him.
Other notes on the game:
- Give WVU's staff credit for throwing out the game plan at halftime against a constantly blitzing UConn offense, which WVU did not anticipate because it was so out of character. It was a good call by UConn coach Randy Edsall to use his team's raw emotion to blitz, blitz, and blitz, making life miserable for Devine and quarterback Jarrett Brown in the first half.
But in the second half, Coach Stewart and his staff solved the math puzzle. They went to a double tight end formation and ran I-formation football to get more bodies against UConn—and it worked.
- Should you be concerned about WVU's defense giving up 378 yards of passing and two touchdowns? Probably.
But also note that the defense got three interceptions, including the final one by nose tackle Chris Nield, after the UConn quarterback's arm was hit while throwing by the always-around-the-ball safety Sidney Glover (who, for my money, is the best guy in the secondary).
That said, WVU seemed incapable of covering or anticipating the UConn crossing routes, which burned the Mountaineers all day. Further, UConn was able to neutralize WVU's pass rush by using three-step drops.
UConn has a very disciplined passing attack, like Cincinnati's. What WVU will face on Friday night against South Florida appears to be a backyard, run-around-'til-someone's-open-or-I'll-take-off passing attack, which poses its own challenges.
- It's hard to tell because the Huskies were playing with so much emotion, but this looked like the best UConn team WVU has ever faced. That's good for the Big East. The team still lacks depth, but that will come.
- Brown played an unspectacular but well-managed game. He threw the touchdown to Urban and an interception over the middle you could see in slow-motion a mile away.
Also, the TV replay showed that he caused his own fumble, which he recovered—by knocking the ball out of his hand with his knee! It must be that Brown feels he cannot run when he holds the ball high and tight, as Pat White did and as Brown has been told repeatedly to do.
Another thing you could see coming a mile away: Kent Richardson's fumble at the end of his fine interception return. Sigh. His fumble would have cost WVU the game, as it was followed almost immediately by Easley's 88-yard TD. But Devine bailed out Richardson, so he should send Devine flowers. Or, you know, something appropriate for heterosexual teammates. Maybe a big hug.