With the 2010 college football season less than two weeks away, expectations are beginning to mount for the West Virginia University football team. As with any team in the FBS, the closer the games get, the more excited fans become.
Since the final seconds ticked off in the Gator Bowl, questions have swirled about the WVU offense and its ability to generate wins in 2010.
The now graduated Jarrett Brown was the starting quarterback for the Mountaineers in the Gator Bowl. Unfortunately, Brown was injured and replaced by Eugene Smith, the projected starter for the 2010 Mountaineers.
Smith played the entire second half of the Gator Bowl loss. Many fans, and scribes alike, have taken the second half performance of WVU’s offense in the Gator Bowl as proof positive that WVU will struggle to score points in 2010.
Even Bill Stewart’s fellow FBS coaches that vote in the just-released AP Coaches Top- 25 poll gave WVU a non-committed, committed ranking for the 2010 season. WVU clawed their way into the Coaches Poll ranked 25th.
As with the aforementioned fans and scribes, the coaches that vote in the poll appear to question the ability of the Mountaineers in 2010.
Yet, there is something present that all involved sense concerning the latest version of the Mountaineer football team, potential.
Smith brings a different skill set to the quarterback position than his most recent predecessors. He is a pass first quarterback, going through his progressions on each pass play.
Brown was often criticized last year for bailing on pass plays too soon, relying instead on his ability to gain yardage with his feet.
Smith will undoubtedly still run the football at times. Additionally, there will certainly be plays designed for Smith to roll out and either run or pass depending on the coverage. Still, Smith will be asked to be a distributor for the Mountaineer offense.
The star of the 2010 version of the Mountaineer offense is Noel Devine. In Devine, the Mountaineer offense has their “game changer”, Devine is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at any time.
It was Devine’s lack of carries during the second half of the Gator Bowl that had WVU fans livid over the loss.
Which brings us to the 800-pound gorilla in the discussion: What would happen to WVU’s football fortunes if Noel Devine were to be lost to injury?
Apparently, it is a question that has been asked, and addressed, by Stewart and his coaching staff.
So, who actually is Devine’s back up? And more importantly, can that individual fill the void that an injury to Devine would create.
Tavon Austin is considered by many to be the heir apparent at running back for the Mountaineers despite being moved to the slot/wide receiver position for the 2010 football season.
Austin was an "all-everything" running back out of Dunbar High School, in Maryland.
He has even been quoted as stating that he would consider staying at slot/wide receiver in the future, depending on how well the experiment goes this year.
Of course, both Austin and his position coach Chris Beatty, left the possibility open for a potential return to the running back position if necessity warranted.
Still, if Devine were to be injured in the third or fourth game of this year, a void could present itself. With Austin taking the lion’s share of offensive snaps at the receiver position, an immediate move to running back seems unlikely.
Stewart and Beatty have both stated that they do not want an injury at one position to effect and change several positions on the Mountaineer offense.
With that directive, Devine’s replacement, for at least the short term, could be selected from one of three players, Shawne Alston, Daquan Hargrett, or Trey Johnson. All three have shown flashes of ability in practice.
At 5'11" and 222 lbs., Alston represents a different style of running back for WVU. He has a knack for running between the tackles, though he is easily a half-step slower than the other backs.
Hargrett and Johnson both appear to be cut from the same mold as Devine and Austin.
They are diminutive in size and weight, but colossal in ability, heart, and the coveted speed.
Youth will play a part in the eventual outcome of the decision regarding those three players.
There is yet another option for the Mountaineer offense; An option that is already part of the offensive package for WVU, the Jumbo Backfield.
The Jumbo package has Matt Lindamood replacing Ryan Clarke at fullback and Clarke moving to the tailback position. Both Clarke and Lindamood are entering their third season for WVU.
Clarke is listed at 6’0”, and 247 lbs, Lindamood is listed at 6’0”, and 234lbs. "Jumbo" by anybody's definition of a running back.
In fact, this package could make solving the Devine injury problem a moot point.
With Clarke and Lindamood to absorb the tough between the tackles yardage, Devine could be allowed to preserve his body for the flash and dash that is so much a part of his game.
As a dedicated football fan, some of my favorite memories are of the Washington Redskins during the early eighties. Joe Gibbs and company elevated power football to an art form.
Salting a game away in the fourth quarter, using the power running game, is as satisfying an experience as there is in football. There's just something about lining up with everyone in the stadium knowing you are going to run the football and move the chains.
Look for the 2010 version of the Mountaineer football team to attack from different angles with different players, using both speed and power to accomplish their task.
As for the 800-pound gorilla, there are rumors that Clarke and Lindamood have scheduled a meeting with it behind the woodshed.