West Virginia's Clarke carries burden of costly fumble

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ten days after putting the football on the ground, West Virginia sophomore running back Ryan Clarke put his backside on a couch.

He was ready to talk about what happened when he fumbled in overtime near the goal line on Oct. 29 in Connecticut.

It was that fumble -- Clarke's second of the game -- on West Virginia's possession in overtime that handed the Huskies the football, allowing them to kick a field goal for a 16-13 victory and the program's first win against West Virginia.

"The lesson is to pay attention to detail," said Clarke, the Mountaineers' short-yardage specialist. "It is something that happened. It is unfortunate, but it is something that happened."

Something, but not the only thing, that has the Mountaineers (5-3, 1-2 Big East) on a two-game losing streak as they prepare for visiting Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2) at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field.

The moment was one thing, the aftermath quite another.

At West Virginia, media members request to speak to football players before the weekly Tuesday night availability; the student-athlete has no obligation to fulfill the request.

On Tuesday, the first student-athlete availability since the Connecticut loss, numerous members of the media requested Clarke. Because of his fumble in the previous game, it was generally thought that there was a slim chance Clarke would face the media.

Also, as a point of reference, consider that standout senior running back Noel Devine, the face of the program whose picture is front and center on the cover of this season's media guide, hasn't spoken to media members since late September.

Devine has nearly 100 more attempts than Clarke and almost 500 more yards gained, but has regularly breezed past media members who requested to speak to him.

On the other hand, Clarke faced the music.

Such a display, from the way Clarke has diligently practiced since the Connecticut loss to the way he plopped his 6-foot, 247-pound body on a couch and faced the media questions head on, came as no surprise to West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.

He said Clarke, who has been a contributor to West Virginia's rushing attack the past two seasons, will continue to be a pivotal piece of the team's offense.

"I love Ryan Clarke; Ryan Clarke got us over the hump in [2009] in short yardage and in third- and fourth-down situations," Mullen said. "He did a phenomenal job all of last year and for the most part all of this year and we will continue to use him in those situations.

"You've got to pick up the pieces and go on," Mullen said. "You have two choice: You can sit around and sulk and say, 'What could have been. We are a couple plays away from being 8-0, but we are not.' Or, 'We are 5-3 and we still have a chance, and we are going to take that opportunity to play really, really hard the last four games.' "

Clarke appears to be choosing the latter of those two options, even as a Big East Conference title has become almost an impossibility.

"A short memory," Clarke said of his approach. "I'm not worried about [Connecticut], I am not worried about anything that happened in the past. I'm just worried about my next carry. We are a team, we are teammates. Everybody messes up on a team and we carry on. It was part of a football game.

"It is always going to stick in my mind. When you fumble the ball, of course you are going to remember it. But it is something that you can't dwell on."

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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