WVU's Big Opportunity Vs. Auburn

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IOctober 22, 2008

If WVU can manage a victory Thursday night over Auburn on ESPN—the Mountaineers are three-point favorites—it will be a season-turner for WVU and a chance to re-enter the national consciousness.

WVU has dropped off the national radar—not only for a run at the title, but off the map in general—since its very bad loss to East Carolina.

Auburn is only 4-3, and its offensive struggles have been well documented. But they are still Auburn, and they are still in the SEC, and it’s still the only football game on that night (though it will be opposite Game Two of the World Series).

Things look as good for WVU as they’ve looked all season, and maybe are as likely to look.

- Pat White is back and healthy. Maybe he likes to play it down, but White must be looking forward to beating Auburn, from his home state of Alabama.

- The defense is playing better each game. The defense is without middle linebacker and soul Reed Williams, but it has made do without him for most of the season.

- Pat Liebig returns to provide depth on the defensive line.

- Maybe—just maybe—the offensive line is learning how to run-block again, and maybe it's learning how to run-block for Noel Devine, who may be learning how to run behind this line, as evidenced by his very patient run behind a well-executing offensive line at the beginning of his 92-yard touchdown run against Syracuse.

- And maybe, just maybe, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen is learning how to call plays. Coach Bill Stewart said the Devine touchdown run was a perfect call at the right moment. Further, Auburn’s defensive coordinator is Paul Rhoads, who, while at Pitt last year, engineered the defense that spoiled WVU’s national championship hopes. Maybe that means WVU knows how Auburn will try to play defense on Thursday.

On the other hand, Auburn’s defense is one of the nation’s best. At least I thought it was until it gave up 416 yards (including 176 yards on the ground) to a very average Arkansas team in a 25-22 loss.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not scared of Auburn. I’m especially not scared in Morgantown on a Thursday night, when magic happens. (Remember the last two Louisville games in Morgantown.)

I think this is the game, following a 12-day layoff, when the WVU defense stymies a foundering, anemic Auburn offense and WVU’s offense, at full strength, finally clicks.

And WVU pops back up onto the national radar screen.