Things are changing in Morgantown—out with the old and in with the new. 2011 is a year of transition for WVU football, and the excitement is building for what could be in West Virginia’s football future.
Of course, none of this is breaking news to anyone. We are all well aware that Dana Holgorsen is in town and in charge of the Mountaineer offense, an offense that is generally a pass first and run when you can offense that will rely heavily on Geno Smith and the receiving corps.
Even though this is happening, WVU has had a proud history of running backs and rushing yards that hopefully will not die within the next few seasons.
Even though Mountaineer fans are hungry for a good receiver to come our way and give us our first 1,000-yard receiving season since Chris Henry in 2003 and David Saunders in 1996 (our only two 1,000-yard receivers by the way), we still want to see that our running backs continue to be some of the best in the nation.
Noel Devine was one of the most explosive and electrifying running backs that WVU has ever had. He had the ability at any time throughout his time at West Virginia to bust out on an amazing 80-something-yard touchdown run.
Devine could literally bounce off opponents and continue gaining yards while being wrestled to the ground. He has some of the most spectacular highlights of any college football player that I know of, and I encourage fans to look some of them up on YouTube. He has even been compared to Barry Sanders by NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, and rightfully so.
However, I think everyone can agree that during Devine’s senior season there was something amiss. After the Louisiana State game in September, Noel never really regained his “swagger.” Whether it was the issue with his foot or something else (I am not trying to say that there was something else), Noel was not the same explosive running back that we were accustomed to seeing. His statistics below will show this as well.
2007 Rushes: 73 Yards: 627 Touchdowns: 6 Long: 76 Average per Carry: 8.6 (second-string running back)
2008 Rushes: 206 Yards: 1,289 Touchdowns: 4 Long: 92 Average per Carry: 6.3
2009 Rushes: 241 Yards: 1,465 Touchdowns: 13 Long: 88 Average per Carry: 6.1
2010 Rushes: 208 Yards: 934 Touchdowns: 6 Long: 50 Average per Carry: 4.5
Statistics from wvustats.com
Out of the 208 carries that Noel had in 2010, he averaged only 4.5 yards per carry. These are not horrible statistics, yet compared to his 6.1 to 8.6 yards per carry during his first three seasons, this seems substandard for a running back that entered 2010 as a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy, as reported by ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel.
There are a lot of schools out there that would have given up a lot for a running back that could have gotten 934 yards rushing last season. However, these are not the stats we expected from Devine.
West Virginia has during the past two decades produced an impressive collection of running backs that gained at least 1,000 yards each season. In fact, since 1996 WVU has had 13 1,000-yard rushing seasons by five different running backs, with the exception of the 2004 and 2010 seasons.
So now the question is who will stand up and be the next great Mountaineer running back?
There is a lot of potential on the 2011 roster with talent like Shawn Alston, Trey Johnson, Andrew Buie and Ryan Clarke. Maybe even Tavon Austin could get in the mix, even though it would appear that Holgorsen plans to keep him at receiver, and with good cause. Maybe it could be someone completely unexpected, like when Steve Slaton stepped up in 2005.
Regardless, we have a lot to be excited about in Morgantown. Spring practice is already here, and before you know it September will roll around, and we will all be tailgating in our old gold and blue.