MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It looked as if the West Virginia football team might be headed into its most critical game of the season in, well, critical condition.
But, yesterday at his news conference -- and without any medical certification or background -- coach Bill Stewart went ahead and upgraded his team to stable condition.
Of the six players injured in Saturday's win against Louisville, five probably will play Friday night at No. 5-ranked Cincinnati.
The two most notable players who were hurt in the Louisville game were running back Noel Devine and quarterback Jarrett Brown, both with ankle injuries. With West Virginia (7-2, 3-1) fighting for its Big East Conference title life against Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0), not having the services of one -- or both -- of the offensive stars would limit the Mountaineers, if not quash their hopes for an upset.
But yesterday, Stewart calmed a lot of nerves.
"We are not as bad as we first anticipated," the second-year head coach said. "Jarrett Brown practiced, that was good to see, and Noel was running around [Monday night]. He was not getting hit in any way, but that was good to see. But Jarrett practiced pretty darn well."
The translation for this (if it follows the way Stewart generally goes about things) is that both players will play against the Bearcats.
In short, anytime a player has been "out there" or "running around" early in the week under Stewart, particularly one with an ankle or knee injury, that player has played in the game on the weekend.
Stewart didn't know what to think in the second quarter against Louisville when a play came to the sideline right in front of him. Devine was carrying the football and took a sharp hit. And something was just a bit out of kilter with the way he landed and the way he took more time than usual in rising to his feet.
"When I saw [Devine] get hit, I saw him get his helmet knocked off, I saw his facemask get jerked. I saw all of that," Stewart said. "I saw him get nicked. And I knew it when he went down that he was nicked."
While, to many, Brown and Devine are the most glaring West Virginia players on the injury report, the Mountaineers also have escaped serious trouble -- when things looked as though they could have been much worse -- on defense.
Strong safety Sidney Glover, nose tackle Chris Neild and defensive tackle Scooter Berry are fighting through shoulder injuries but are expected to play against Cincinnati. As recently as Sunday, the status of all three of those players was uncertain.
Defensive tackle Josh Taylor is dealing with a back sprain and appears to be the only one of the six injured Mountaineers who will sit out Friday's game.
Meeting this Cincinnati team that is third in the country in total offense at 482.6 yards per game is a tall enough task with a healthy squad.
So how does Stewart determine how well a player has recovered from an injury to be able to perform?
"It is a feel thing," Stewart said. "They won't snow me. ... They will tell me the truth. They are very, very honest young men. I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I've got the greatest young men that anyone could ever hope for and I mean that sincerely."
NOTE -- Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly looks as if he has put an end to the Bearcats' quarterback controversy -- for this week. Kelly said to Cincinnati radio station WEBN yesterday morning that he plans to start quarterback Zach Collaros, who is 3-0 as a starter after taking over for Tony Pike, who injured his left (non-throwing) arm in a win Oct. 15 at South Florida. On Monday, Kelly had originally said Pike would start when he was again healthy enough to play. Although Pike has been medically cleared now and is listed as day to day, Kelly will stick with the hot-handed Collaros.
Colin Dunlap can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1459. First Published November 11, 2009 5:00 AM