WVU-UConn: Running Back Showdown Could Decide Big East

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IOctober 29, 2008

Maybe no one would have predicted it before the season began, but WVU’s noon game at UConn has turned out to be a showdown between two of the nation’s top 10 running backs.

UConn’s Donald Brown is leading the nation, averaging 166 yards per game.

Based on his past two games, WVU’s Noel Devine has vaulted into the nation’s No. 9 position, averaging 121 yards per game.

So far, Brown has accumulated 1,324 yards to Devine’s 849 yards.

Brown is a strong, fast back, but more of a power runner at 5'10", 208 pounds. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

We know what kind of a back the small-and-strong Devine is; he’s averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per carry.

Last year, in WVU’s 66-21 victory over UConn, the Mountaineers rushed for more than 500 yards against what was touted as a top defense.

This year, UConn is allowing only 110 yards per game rushing, good for No. 26 nationally. (WVU, ranked No. 48, is allowing 123 yards per game.)

At the same time, WVU is back to piling up rushing yards and heading toward the top of Div. 1 rushing offenses: Now averaging 231 yards per game, WVU is ranked 10th nationally in rushing. (UConn is No. 17, at 214 yards per game.)

So, both teams come in with a strong rushing attack and tough run defense to square off for a redux of last year’s de facto Big East Conference championship. If WVU wins, it remains undefeated in the Big East and gives UConn its second conference loss, practically knocking the Huskies out of the race for the BCS bowl bid.

UConn is playing musical quarterbacks, but all it needs is someone to hand the ball off to Brown (and this year’s forgotten man, Andre Dixon, who’s had success against WVU). If WVU can throttle UConn’s ground game, it will force the Huskies to go to the air with an inexperienced quarterback. And the way WVU’s defense has been growing on pass defense and pressure, that matchup favors the Mountaineers.

My buddy Rob says that if WVU can go up to UConn and nail down a 45-14 win—just about the team’s average winning score during the 2006-07 seasons—then he’ll believe the Mountaineers, following their thrashing of Auburn, are really back.

Sounds about right. Though I’d take a 20-17 victory, as well.