Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

December 28, 2010

Final game for WVU seniors

BLUEFIELD — Noel Devine was a late signee with West Virginia back in 2007. That’s about the only time the Mountaineers’ star running back has been behind.

Four years have seemingly flown by for Devine, with his final game being tonight when the Mountaineers (9-3) play North Carolina State (8-4) in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m.

He’s not thinking about any finality just yet. He wants one final win as a Mountaineer.

“This is just a homecoming,” said Devine, one of several Mountaineers returning to their home state of Florida. “It’s about coming out and playing football, and just enjoying every minute of it.”

The same could be said for much of his career at West Virginia. Even though the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Devine has been hampered by injuries this season, he’s still ran for 884 and six touchdowns.

“My mindset is just on playing football,” said Devine, who is one of four players to eclipse 4,000 yards rushing in Big East history. “I’m going to play.”

For his career, Devine has scampered for 4,265 yards — which is third in school history — and scored 29 touchdowns. He’s also caught 94 passes for 689 yards, and averaged 21.6 yards on 34 kick returns.

He’s just one of several seniors playing their final games at West Virginia. Others include receiver Jock Sanders and defensive standouts J.T. Thomas, Scooter Berry and Chris Neild.

 “We hate it. We’d like to keep those guys around for another year, but it is what it is,” West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said. “Life marches on, and so do these seniors. I hope they go out with a bang.

“I hope each senior has a banner day and a fantastic finish. We’re going to win the football game the best way we can, and hopefully these seniors will have a big, big part in it.”

Stewart is a little concerned that the West Virginia seniors that hail from Florida — and there are four of them — might be a little too emotional for this game. It has happened before.

“They have gotten better. When Jock and Noel were freshmen and played at (South Florida), it wasn’t a good outing. It was a rough night,” Stewart said. “They were just trying to do too much. I thought last year in the Gator Bowl, we were trying to do too much. Florida State only recruited one of my guys. I think everyone was trying to prove too much.

“They just want to play a game on Tuesday. We want to stay within the framework of our offense, defense and special teams, and keep in mind that it’s just a game. It just happens to be in Florida.”

Much has been made of N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson and his playmaking ability for the Wolfpack, but Stewart is looking to see the same skills displayed by his Mountaineers against a defense long known for its interior line play.

West Virginia has won its last four games, scoring at least 35 points in three of those, while holding all of those foes to 14 points or fewer.

“They come at you. Here’s the biggest problem I see with them — if their front seven can get to us before we can get the ball to our playmakers in space, then they will be very successful,” Stewart said. “If we can keep those guys from getting to us and get the ball in the flat to Jock and Tavon (Austin), I don’t think those guys can tackle them.

“That’s going to be the key. We can also pop them with our run game if they loosen a little. Geno (Smith) has to run the football for us to be successful, and he will run the football.

“What you’ve seen over the last four games is what you’re going to see Tuesday night.”

West Virginia has two players with targets on their backs heading into this one. Defensive back Pat Miller is expected to start for Brandon Hogan — with Brodrick Jenkins also seeing the field — while Cole Bowers will start at offensive guard, with Eric Jobe replacing the suspended Joe Madsen at center.

“It’s big time important (for Pat and Brodrick to step-up). It’s crucial,” Stewart said. “Those receivers are bigger and taller than our guys. From what I’ve seen, they look faster than our guys. I don’t think anyone will give us a chance come Tuesday. We’ll see. We’ll play.”

Miller — who, liked Jenkins is 5-10, is aware that Miller and the Wolfpack will be targeting his side of the field with 6-5 Robert Sands on the other side. Seven N.C. State receivers have at least 21 receptions, and all of them are 6-0 and most are closer to 6-4.

“They are going to do what they do. I just need to be ready and do what I do,” Miller said. “I’m going to be prepared, do what we’ve been doing in practice and make plays...

“I know that they’re going to make plays. Everyone makes plays. I’m going to try not to make a big deal out of it.”

Meanwhile, Bowers — who will share time with Jeff Braun and John Bassler — knows his role will be crucial in keeping the Wolfpack defenders away from Smith and opening holes for a healthy Devine.

It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Bowers. He started for an injured Josh Jenkins in a difficult environment during a 20-14 loss at LSU.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s a little different situation than before when I started. Then, Josh went down, and I stepped up. I proved myself in that game and I’m looking to do the same again,” Bower said. “I just know that I have to go out there every game and get after it...

“Defensively, they are a strong front. Their linebackers are really good. They get off the block really well.”

Wilson, who is also a second baseman in the Colorado Rockies’ organization, is still the talk of this game for the Mountaineers. Containing the talented signal-caller will be key for West Virginia, which is looking for its fifth bowl win the last six years, with the lone loss being last year in the Gator Bowl in Bobby Bowden’s final game at Florida State.  

“The biggest thing for this game is that we have to keep them from big gains on first down,” Stewart said. “With Russell Wilson, they can’t be first and 10, first and 10, and get into a rhythm. He’ll run us right out of the park.

“We have to get them out of rhythm. If we do that, then we get a chance to play more of our speed guys, which will help guys like Pat or Brodrick cover their tall receivers.”

One final game remains for the 2010 season. While it might not have ended with the promise that it began, Devine wants to add one more highlight to his West Virginia career.

“We’re going to come out and throw a party on these guys and play our best,” Devine said. “This time (in Florida) has just been about bonding with my team and enjoying our last few days together.

“I’ve been speaking to the younger guys and telling them how it is and that they need to keep the tradition going.  They need to be Mountaineers and work hard.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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