Devine, a freshman who has been seldom used save a 136-yard effort – and that on just five carries – in the 31-14 win at Maryland, broke loose for 118 on 11 carries in the 66-21 rout of UConn last week. Devine showcased his burst and overall speed and balance in dicing the Huskies. His supplement will further stress defenses that haven't truly been able to bottle West Virginia's spread attack yet.
"Parts of his drawbacks are part of his advantages," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He is a small guy and sometimes they can't see him. He can get behind big guys and get to the second level. We saw that in recruiting and he is still learning. We have more confidence in him now then we did in the beginning of the season because he understands the system. He'll be in more of the regular rotation than he was in the beginning of the year."
WVU's yards per carry is down from 2005 and '06, but it ranks second nationally in that category as well, behind Arkansas. Now, with two speed backs with Devine and Steve Slaton and quarterback Patrick White, the triumvirate threatens to be unstoppable in the season finale.
"He is coming on at just the right time," fullback Owen Schmitt said of Devine. "There isn't a lot of film on him. He can do some of the things I can't, and teams can't just stack off my side now. They don't know which way we will go."
Or how. White, who rushed for career highs of 220 yards each of the last two games against Pitt (4-7, 2-4 Big East), now has three legitimate speed options on the triple option, a keeper being the third. He can fake to either Slaton, who ran for 215 and 179 yards in the last two Brawls, or Devine, forcing the defense to truly cover that side and not rely on its makeup speed to stop the play, as it did with Schmitt. Moving the opposite direction, the pressure applied to linebackers and cornerbacks coming up to cover the run is extreme. One false step and one of the runners slides by, exposing the defense for large gains due to speed and vision.
"They are a little more athletic than what UConn was, so we have to be prepared for that," said White, who totaled 424 yards of offense in last year's 45-27 road win and 261 in the 45-13 victory in ‘05. "I definitely feel that we can all get the job done. We are very athletic and very competitive. When you add that with the talent of our front five, the only thing I see is success."
The offensive line hasn't performed as well as it did the past two seasons as a whole, but seems to have hit a bit of a stride in the last outing. That combination of factors could be dizzying, even for a Pitt team which ranks 11th nationally in total defense allowing 308 yards per game. The Panthers' 4-3 set has more skill than it possessed when second-year head coach Dave Wannstedt arrived, but hasn't been able to slow teams well on the ground. Pitt allows 132 rush yards per game (41st nationally), and gave up 331 and four scores in an overtime loss to Navy. It hasn't faced anything like the skill/speed combination of West Virginia (10-1, 5-1), and the most comparable team would be South Florida, which scored 48 points against Pitt last week.
"I think we want it more," said Slaton of the Backyard Brawl. "We have executed well. They have a lot of talent, and we have made those guys miss. I think it is easy to get fired up for this. It's a rivalry game and I know what it means to the coaches and fans and everything."
Pitt actually matches WVU's passing game well. The secondary starts two seniors, a junior and a sophomore, all of whom are solid cover players and can man deep pass routes well and the run reasonably. But that's of little consolation against a team that throws only to keep teams honest and off its running attack. Even with the nation's leader in tackles in linebacker Scott McKillop (12 per game), Pitt is still relatively average along the front seven. Strong side linebacker Adam Gunn is a converted quarterback who has only recently begun starting. The ends are the best players against the run (Chris McKillop, brother of Scott, and Joe Clermond), and both are a solid 6-3 and 255-265 pounds, and talented enough to slow the Mountaineers.
"We have to be creative offensively," Rodriguez said. "We have do some things and we also have to throw the ball some. We have enough variety that we have a few answers to it, but there is no question that if they want to they can commit to stopping the run. We have to be prepared to throw the ball and do some different things to get some big plays. I have been very impressed with Scott McKillop. I think he is leading the country in tackles and it is not a situation were they are 15-yards down the field, they are tackles that are at the line of scrimmage or four or five yards. He has been very active and I think the key to their defense."
But the pressure on both McKillops will be immense, and could force nose tackle Rashaad Duncan, who had eight tackles against WVU last year, to play outside his comfort zone in attempting to slow down the running game. Add in Schmitt at tight end, and the Mountaineers can run many speed sets out of varied formations that make it difficult to quickly align properly and fit well, let alone cover the plays correctly.
"When we execute, it is hard to stop us, period, no matter who we are playing or where we are playing," White said. "(But) they are dangerous not because nobody is giving them a chance to win, but because of their talent. They are really good. They are ranked, what, No. 11 in the country? That says a lot about what they have accomplished this year. I think it will be one of the wildest games I will have experienced in Morgantown. It will be a big, exciting atmosphere. Both teams will be ready. It will be a fun game for the viewers."
Especially if Pitt can piece together a first half like it did last season, when it led 27-24 via a beautiful 73-yard punt return by Derrell Revis setup by a terrific block and the returner's athleticism and vision along the sideline. The Panthers weren't in the game because of their defense, however, which allowed three Slaton scores in the first 30 minutes. In the last four quarters, West Virginia has averaged 11.25 points against Pitt and rushed for 111 yards, or 888 total in two games. That's simply too much for the Panthers to overcome with a freshman quarterback – as long as WVU doesn't beat itself.
"The only way that West Virginia loses is if they turn the ball over," said Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, whose team split against WVU and Pitt. "That's what happened against South Florida. The only games that were even a little close were when they turned the ball over. If you don't get turnovers, nobody is going to beat them. The only thing that is going to hurt West Virginia is West Virginia. If they protect the ball (this) week, and again in the national championship game, they will be national champs. If they don't, they will give someone an opportunity."