MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- During his weekly news conference yesterday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bill Stewart shed little light on the status of running back Noel Devine's injured left ankle.
Devine hurt the ankle late in the first half of the Mountaineers' victory Nov. 7 against Louisville and was used sparingly in the second half of that game. In the loss Nov. 13 at Cincinnati, Devine carried the ball 25 times, but it was obvious his ability to cut was limited as he accumulated 88 yards (3.5 yards per carry). Devine, who has a penchant to rip off long runs, had a long of 11 yards against Cincinnati.
After the Cincinnati game, Stewart said Devine was "not good" when asked about how close to 100 percent the running back was during that game.
With an off week before Friday's Pitt game, Devine has had time to rest the gimpy ankle, but yesterday Stewart failed to expound much on his star's injury, saying only, "Noel is getting better each day."
Pitt's defensive ends are very good, and Stewart knows as much.
He watches film, he reads the newspapers, so Stewart is aware of Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard.
He has heard about how West Virginia tackles Don Barclay and Selvish Capers are going to have their hands full and how Romeus and Sheard possess a mixture of size and speed the NFL scouts are looking for.
So what is Stewart going to do special along his offensive front to slow down those defensive ends when his team takes on Pitt Friday in the Backyard Brawl?
"Maybe have a tight end block them here or a chip [block] there," Stewart said. "But you cannot spend your whole time just worrying about the two defensive ends, because if you do that, they will take you out of your whole defensive game plan, and you can't call your game."
Pitt's No. 9 spot in the latest BCS standings and No. 8 spot in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll is certainly a reflection of what the 9-1 Panthers have done this year.
But Stewart thinks there is more to it than that.
"This is five years in the works," Stewart said. "It is five years of getting better each year and adding to the repertoire."
Stewart has also spoken in recent weeks about how the Pitt fan base showed patience with Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, even as Wannstedt went through his first season with five wins, his second with six and third with five
In Stewart's opinion, that patience has been paramount to Pitt gaining national prominence, and so, too, is a maturation of a roster that Wannstedt recruited and then cultivated.
"To me, I see many, many seniors there on their two-deep," Stewart said. "That has been five years in the making. ... You are not in the top 10 just because voters like you. They've got a good football team. We are up against it. We are going to have us a whale of a challenge."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.