By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
October 2, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sometimes you just have to ride your horse. West Virginia did that Thursday night against Colorado.
||Noel Devine has had two career 200-yard rushing performances and both have come during Thursday night games.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
The Mountaineers hopped on the shoulders of Noel Devine, and the junior carried them to a 35-24 victory over Colorado at Milan Puskar Stadium. Devine ran 22 times for a career-high 220 yards, scoring the game’s opening touchdown on a 77-yard run – the second longest rushing TD of his career.
Despite the 11-point victory, the Mountaineers made this game much harder than it should have been.
West Virginia put the football on the ground four more times against Colorado after a dreadful six-turnover performance at Auburn 10 days ago. In its last three games, West Virginia has turned the ball over an alarming 14 times.
WVU had just 16 turnovers all of last year.
“We stopped turning the ball over,” Devine said. “We came out and played harder than we did in the first half. The fumbles were bringing our team down and somebody had to bring us up.”
“If we do not take care of our turnovers, we will not have a banner season like I think we can,” added West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
West Virginia (3-1) held a slim 14-10 halftime lead after having squandered at least two good scoring opportunities in the first half on fumbles by Bradley Starks and Jock Sanders. Meanwhile, Devine showed 142 yards rushing on only eight carries. Stewart said Devine asked for the football in the second half and the coach was more than happy to oblige.
“If he said it … do you know what I’m saying?” Devine laughed.
“The more the game went on we put the ball into No. 7’s hands,” said Stewart. “Because they were blitzing, I got a little frustrated with the pass protection and Jarrett (Brown) running around in the third quarter and I said, ‘That’s it.’ That’s on me – I’ve been trying to wheel it deal it – throw it deep and spread the field. I said, ‘Put the ball in seven’s hands.”
Devine did the rest.
He got two carries on West Virginia’s opening drive of the third quarter that ended with a touchdown, and then he carried eight times during West Virginia’s key 14-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a Ryan Clark 1-yard touchdown run to give the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead.
“I want to be that guy when it comes down to crunch time of being the guy that can make plays,” Devine said.
It was crunch time. WVU was then holding a slim 21-17 lead.
“I thought that drive at the end of the third quarter and going into the fourth quarter was very, very impressive,” said Stewart, now 13-5 as West Virginia’s coach. “We haven’t had a drive like that in a long time.”
Both of Devine’s 200-yard rushing performances have come on a national stage on Thursday night. Last year, he ran for 207 yards and a touchdown in the Mountaineers’ 34-17 win over Auburn on ESPN.
Devine is also getting into the end zone more frequently this year. In 2008 he reached paydirt just four times. A year later, Devine already has six touchdowns in just four games.
Devine’s first TD run Thursday was a thing of beauty. He broke right off of Donny Barclay’s zone block and outran Colorado safety Patrick Mahnke for a 77-yard touchdown. It was the second straight game Devine has scored from more than 70 yards out, and it was his third career TD run of 70 yards or longer.
“First it starts up front. I saw (Barclay) pulling and he sprung it open,” Devine said. “Then basically from there it was about speed and making the person miss.”
Later in the second quarter, Devine also had a 56-yard run. It was his fourth run of more than 30 yards this season. Devine says the reason he is hitting more big plays this year is because he’s slowing down and letting the plays develop.
“I’m more patient. I know when to hit it and when not to,” he said. “The game is slowing down a lot more to me.”
Despite scoring more than 30 points in each game this season, the West Virginia offense is still not firing on all eight cylinders. And when that happens?
“I’d say we can average like a 1,000 yards total offense per game, easily,” Devine laughed.