West Virginia: Noel Devine rarely got the call after a strong start in a tough loss to Auburn
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AUBURN, Ala. -- On Noel Devine's first run against Auburn Saturday, he hammered in for a 1-yard touchdown.
There was no questioning the power that the little 5-foot-8 frame produced around the goal line on his first touch.
The second time quarterback Jarrett Brown handed it to him, Devine exhibited that open-field speed everyone talks about.
He roared through the Tigers' secondary, going 71 yards for a score, putting West Virginia ahead, 14-0, and sending silence through the almost 90,000 Auburn fans squeezed into Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"Everyone already knew about him," Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens said of Devine. "He is a great player. Real fast."
The third time Devine touched the football, it was more of the same as he ripped off 14 yards for a first down.
Three rushes, two touchdowns, 86 yards -- that is where Devine's stat line stood with 10 minutes gone against Auburn.
It was easy to think Devine -- or at least the running game -- was well on the way to a workhorse night against Auburn. Not so.
The rest of the game, after those three carries, Devine got just 12 more. He finished with 128 yards. So what happened?
Did the West Virginia offense inexplicably go away from something that was working masterfully against the Tigers, feeding into one of the components that went to make up a 41-30 loss?
Not so, says West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, who went to the screen game quite a bit, relied on Brown's arm and watched the quarterback scramble for yardage. Brown finished 18 for 32, but his four interceptions were lethal to West Virginia's chances at winning.
"Fifteen to 20 is about where it needs to be, right in there," Mullen said of the ideal amount of carries he'd like Devine to get per game. "There is no question he had a big night for us, but it is difficult when you fall behind at the end. That probably skewed the touches for him."
In the third quarter, Devine was handed the ball four times, scoring once from 12 yards.
West Virginia entered the fourth quarter with a 30-27 lead, and in that quarter Devine got just three carries.
"We felt like we needed to get into a two-minute offense very early in the fourth quarter because of the offense [Auburn runs]. They tend to eat clock," Mullen said. "That kind of squeezes you for possessions. I am sure that also skewed the final five to seven carries that he normally gets."
On top of what he did with his arm, Brown carried the ball the most times for West Virginia, carrying 19 times for 66 yards. But it wasn't by design -- far from it.
"I would not have guessed that Jarrett Brown had 19 carries," Mullen said. "I would bet a lot of money that at least 12 to 15 of them were on scrambles, because we have no intention whatsoever of calling his number that much in the run game."
Still, those 12 to 15 were pass plays or, to this point, plays where Devine's number wasn't called.
So, why didn't Devine's number get called a little more in the second half?
Did Auburn make a defensive adjustment to take him out of the game? Did Devine want the ball more?
Did he think he could have been more of a factor had the offensive game plan continued to include a big dose of him?
Sometimes there are questions that never get answered -- as is the case here.
Even though he was one of the handful of players the media requested to speak to following the game, Devine failed to show up for the interview session after the difficult loss.
NOTE -- Brown left the game late in the fourth quarter after being tackled awkwardly. Both Stewart and Mullen said he slightly injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Brown is expected to use the week off to recover and be fine for West Virginia's next game against Colorado Oct. 1 at home.
First Published September 21, 2009 12:00 am