- By John Antonik
- October 15, 2010 08:45 PM
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Just after Robert Sands made his interception return to the South Florida seven during Saturday night’s 20-6 West Virginia victory, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen already had in mind the play he wanted to call against USF’s defense: a hook and lateral. During his Friday afternoon teleconference, Coach Bill Stewart was pleased with the way his defense played and thought it would have been foolish for his offense to take any unnecessary risks in the second half with his defense playing so well.
All he had to do was to get running backs coach Chris Beatty on board.
“Coach Beatty is in charge when we get down into the score zone and for two years I would always want to bring that play up and he would say, ‘Coach that play isn’t going to work. You can’t call that play.’ Well, he comes in from his tape study this week and he says, ‘That play is going to work.’ I said, ‘Do what?’ It was the first time in three years he said, ‘Coach we’ve got to call that play.’”
What made the circumstances so favorable were all of the tunnel screens West Virginia had been forced to call because USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was calling so many blitzes.
“I felt like that was the right time to do that,” said Mullen.
The trick play called for a pass out in the flat to Jock Sanders, who then flipped the ball back to running back Noel Devine trailing behind him. Devine was able to out-run two defenders to the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown. Sanders was credited with a minus-4-yard reception, Devine got 11 yards added to his receiving total and the touchdown, while the record books will show a 7-yard TD pass to quarterback Geno Smith.
Sound confusing? Well, the play worked out much smoother than the stat crew trying to figure it out. Mullen said they have tried this play unsuccessfully in the past.
“We have been running that play for a couple of years,” he said. “We ran that play at Auburn last year and I think it gained minimal yards. We ran it in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and it didn’t gain anything so it’s always in the playbook.”
Getting it from the playbook to the call sheet was Beatty’s doing.
“I have to give Coach Beatty a lot of credit for getting that into the call sheet and clearly as the ebb and flow of the game went it seemed like the perfect time for me to let that one fly,” said Mullen. “The kids executed that one to perfection.”
Mullen also wasn’t concerned about the location on the field or the time on the clock because West Virginia still had two timeouts remaining. Plus, West Virginia likely wasn’t going to run the seven yards against USF’s stout defense.
“We had about 50 seconds on the clock and we were in our personnel grouping that allowed us to be two-minute so we felt confident that even if that thing was tackled, incomplete … the worst fear was the fumble on the lateral, but again, I felt like we had set it up pretty good up to that point.”
The score gave the Mountaineers a two-touchdown lead going into the second half.
“If South Florida were to score, I wanted them to go 70, 80 or 90 yards,” he said. “They can call me conservative, they can call me whatever, but when your defense is playing like we were playing and we were keeping everything pretty good in the kicking game, then you’re allowing your defense to win. What I’m trying to do here is win football games.”
Stewart pointed out a critical tackle safety Eain Smith made on Moise Plancher in the fourth quarter that likely averted a long touchdown run.
“Plancher went through that hole and they had a hat on everybody,” he said. “If Eain Smith doesn’t make that tackle – he barely cut his legs out – it’s a touchdown. Now the game is 20-13 with a chance for an onside kick, or for us to muff something or make us punt. “
In addition for preparing for Thursday night’s game against USF, West Virginia also had the benefit of evaluating next week’s opponent Syracuse because the two teams played the week before. Stewart was impressed with the way Syracuse ran the ball late in the game to preserve a 13-9 victory.
“Syracuse had patience and they hung in there because South Florida didn’t score on the Syracuse defense,” Stewart said.
Stewart wanted to give the ball to Devine and see if he could break another long run. But Devine is still not playing at 100 percent after suffering a bruised foot at LSU on Sept. 25.
“I can’t tell you what his foot feels like, I can only look out there, and what I think he’s just not as quick yet and hopefully by next week that will get better,” Stewart said. “He’s gotten better each and every day but he’s not as quick as he was before he got hurt.”
The third-year coach said the one area the team needs to improve on is moving the chains on short yardage situations in the second half. Because South Florida had so much size up front and speed in the secondary Stewart thought the best way to move the ball was by throwing a lot of short passes.
“We wanted to spread the field out because any time we tried to run the ball they had that extra guy in the box,” Stewart explained. “That’s what happened to the spread to a lot of teams – and our quarterback is a better passer right now than a runner simply because that’s what we’ve had him do more.
“That being said, we felt that we could move the ball that way,” he added. “Even though during the fourth quarter it was always fourth and one or fourth and two – so we were making yards – we just weren’t getting the chains to move. That’s where we’ve got to get better.”
Stewart said the team will take Saturday off before resuming its regular routine on Sunday. Syracuse faces Pitt Saturday at noon. The game can be seen on ESPN3.com.
Bill Stewart was one of 18 football coaches hired in 2008 and of those, 18 Stewart’s 23-9 mark (not counting the 2008 Fiesta Bowl) after Thursday night’s win over USF is third to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s 24-8 record and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson’s 24-9 mark. The other coaches with 20-plus wins during the same span of time are Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Mississippi’s Houston Nutt and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo (21 wins each).