In his first two appearances of the 2008 regular season after missing a pair of games recovering from shoulder surgery, WVU linebacker Reed Williams has unquestionably made a big impact on the fortunes of West Virginia's defense.
Williams' impact has been sizeable, and when one factors in the fact that Williams is not yet 100 percent, his contributions become even more remarkable.
The downside to that, though, is that the senior from Hardy County is still playing in an awful lot of pain. So much pain, in fact, that WVU's coaching and training staff is keeping him under close watch this week in preparation for the Rutgers game.
"We're going to watch him and see how he does," said head coach Bill Stewart on Tuesday. "Saturday, he was good. The guy is hurting. The guy's played hurt in the past, but I want to make sure he can't get hurt any worse. So, we will see how he does."
If Williams plays against Rutgers, the option of taking a medical redshirt would no longer be on the table. The win over Marshall was the final game Williams could have played in this season without jeopardizing the possibility of a redshirt.
For now, West Virginia is planning for RU with Williams in the fold.
"He's playing, unless he gets hurt," Stewart said.
Stewart again plans to use Jarrett Brown this week as a utility man of sorts. Brown saw action against Marshall as a running back, quarterback and slot receiver.
"(WVU Director of Football Communications) Mike Montoro made me list Jarrett as a slot this week," Stewart noted. "He's the biggest slot in America. He told me to do it, so I did. He's at backup quarterback and backup slot."
Brown's increased role is just a microcosm of the big picture for West Virginia's offense. Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen have vowed all year long to spread the ball around, which minimizes the toll taken on quarterback Patrick White and forces defense to plan for more than just a two-man show.
"We are going to come to a game where (White and tailback Noel Devine) need help," Stewart said. "That's why we're trying to get the ball out to (Dorrell Jalloh, Jock Sanders and Alric Arnett). That's why we're trying to get (Bradley Starks and Wes Lyons) in the action. That's why Jarrett Brown came into the game. We need another dimension, because you cannot win consistently in this league with just two players. It doesn't work that way."
The Marshall game was West Virginia's best offensive effort of the season against a Division I-A opponent. The Mountaineers racked up 27 points and nearly 500 total yards against the Thundering Herd, but Stewart is still hoping to see improvement from week to week despite the big numbers against MU.
"We did a little bit better offensively, and a little bit better on third down statistically," he said. "We're not riding that crest and doing everything we need to be doing yet. We're getting better and getting closer."
Sticking with the surfing idioms, Stewart is hopeful that Devine, West Virginia's leading rusher through four games, will be a little bit more patient this week against Rutgers. The sophomore turned in several spectacular runs against Marshall where he reversed field and outran the Herd defense.
Instead of trying to make the spectacular play every time, though, Stewart thinks that Devine will still get his yards if he allows a little more time for the offensive line to hold their blocks.
"I told him that, if you see a surfer on TV staying with the wave, he needs to stay with the wave. If the tidal wave comes and we come off that wave, he sees the crack and everything has been a cutback. That works sometimes, but he needs to wait on the wave.
"Stevie, Quincy, Avon and everyone we've had here has been good at having patience to the hole, speed through the hole," Stewart continued. "Patience to the hole, speed through it. He's giving up on the wave. I want to see the wave crest. You can't always wait for a guy to do one of those Nintendo runs."
That's not to say, however, that Stewart will be discouraging Devine from using his improvisation techniques this weekend or in the future.
"Gosh no," Stewart said. "I did like Coach Nehlen did when Major (Harris) broke that one against Penn State (in 1988 on a broken play which resulted in a 25-yard touchdown run by Harris). You remember that run, don't you? Major came over and told Coach he was sorry, and Coach told him it was ok. That's good coaching, to me. It's why Don Nehlen is a Hall of Famer."
West Virginia's defensive line has improved steadily over the season's first four games, even without the services of departed seniors Johnny Dingle and Keilen Dykes. A big reason for the D-Line's success has been the play of sophomore nose guard Chris Neild.
"I think Chris Neild has really stepped up," Stewart said. "He has been our player of the week, and according to Bill Kirelawich, he has really come on well. I'm very pleased with how he's played."
"We're very excited about Scooter (Berry)," he continued. "Scooter is just a sophomore, but Scooter has been here for seven years. He came the year after I came I think. He's just a redshirt sophomore, but he's done so well.