JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Was yesterday's Gator Bowl the last time junior running back Noel Devine will wear a West Virginia uniform, opting, instead, to make the leap to the NFL and bypass his senior season?
He wouldn't definitively say.
But, then again, there was advancement on that front as Devine -- who gained 168 yards and scored a touchdown in the loss -- spoke more than he has in the recent past when the subject was broached.
In the past few weeks, when skipping his senior year was brought up to him, Devine would simply say, "I'll leave that in God's hands" before shifting the conversation or, sometimes, ending it tersely.
Yesterday, he opened up -- or at least more than the intensely-private Devine usually does with the media, with whom he often acts standoffish.
"I'm not sure yet," Devine said, when asked if he will make the jump to the NFL.
When asked what would solidify his decision, Devine continued, "I just have to sit down and talk with my family. I have to think about it, do research."
Devine was pressed even more and asked if yesterday's performance -- one in which he ran masterfully, including a 70-yard, first-quarter bolt -- helped him decide.
"I'm not sure," Devine said. "If I was an NFL scout I would be able to tell you that."
There was one point of contention for Devine, it seemed -- and it could affect him leaving.
He roared to 127 first-half yards on 11 carries, as West Virginia went into halftime with a 14-13 lead.
But, in the second half -- and with the Mountaineers playing with backup quarterback Geno Smith because of an ankle injury to Jarrett Brown -- Devine got just five carries in the second half.
"I'm not the coach," he said. "I am disappointed we lost to a Florida team because I'm [from] Florida, and this was personal."
West Virginia safety Robert Sands was remarkable in the loss, making 11 tackles, two for a loss.
His effort was atypical of West Virginia's defense; the unit game up 415 yards and 24 first downs.
But Sands was one of the few bright spots for a defense that uncharacteristically gave up 30 points in the final three quarters.
Coming into this game, West Virginia had yielded no more than 24 points in any of its past three games.
"The problem is, when Robert Sands is making all those tackles, that means they are getting back there to Robert Sands," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "And that's a problem."
The Mountaineers wore small decals on their helmets with the letters "CH" to commemorate the life of former West Virginia and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry, who died last month at 26. ... West Virginia faced a rare fourth-and-43. After a first-and-10 from the Florida State 22, the Mountaineers took two penalties and two negative plays to put themselves in such a predicament. ... While the Gator Bowl organizers put together a great matchup, they overlooked how the mascots would get along. Just before game time, the Mountaineer mascot -- as is customary -- fired off a shot from a musket. Renegade, Florida State's horse mascot who is ridden by Chief Osceola, was spooked, jumped high in the air and bucked for a few seconds before the person depicting Osceola calmed the animal down.
Colin Dunlap can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1459.