When Noel Devine hit an open hole around the left side of West Virginia's offensive line and ran untouched for a 92-yard game-clinching touchdown against Syracuse, the gold-clad faithful in the stands of Milan Puskar Stadium let out a collective sigh of relief.
Fittingly, Devine was able to sprint to the corner on that play before squaring up and speeding away to paydirt. Fitting because on that play, West Virginia's veteran offensive line turned a colossal corner.
"That's a great point," said junior left guard Greg Isdaner earlier this week. "In a way, you could go back to that and say that was a big play for us. We were in trouble if we didn't get a first down there. The defense played great that whole game. We gave them field position, and then that. That was such a big play for us."
Until that point, the play of the offensive line – widely expected to be the strength of the team heading into the season – had been consistently inconsistent. Oh, sure, there were moments when the line looked every bit as dominating as it has for several seasons.
A 316-yard effort against Colorado stands out. Tailback Noel Devine was still putting up very good numbers. Despite these examples, many would agree that the consistency up front that West Virginia needed for success was just not there.
Until Devine ran through a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to put away the Orange.
Last week against Auburn, West Virginia turned in another outstanding performance, running for 271 yards (207 of which came from Devine on his career night) en route to a lopsided 34-17 win over the visiting Tigers. Early in the game, despite two early interceptions that led to 10 Auburn points, Isdaner felt the WVU running game was clicking like it should.
"When we went down and scored our first points, we realized that if we didn't turn the ball over, they weren't going to stop us that night," he explained. "From that point on, we kept momentum rolling."
With a veteran line, an experienced running back, and a similar offensive scheme, why did it take so long for the offensive line to finally hit its stride? If you know the answer, feel free to relay it to Isdaner or any of his mates on the line.
"Continuity would be one word," he said. "If you ask ‘why now?' I can't tell you why it took until the seventh game. It did. Bringing us back from last year, three of us missing spring ball, we struggled to get into a rhythm. You knew you would at some point. I think we clicked at game five last year, so it takes a little bit to get back into it."
Perhaps trying to find an answer as to why it took so long would be pointless now. After all, it certainly looks as though the West Virginia ground game is back on track. Perhaps the biggest difference in recent practices hasn't been anything schematically or even physically. Rather, a familiar mindset has returned to trenches.
"I think confidence is the biggest thing," Isdaner noted. "What that can do for a team's confidence is more important than how talented you are, what plays you run, what defense your facing. None of that matters. If you're executing the schemes well with a high level of confidence, you are going to perform well.
"We're finally starting to gel as an offense," he continued. "The defense has been great all year. We think that hopefully we will be a force to be reckoned with by the end of the season."
If Isander is correct in his belief that carrying the confidence forward will result in better execution from this point forward, then one might even draw the conclusion that the best is yet to come from the WVU offense.
"I think we realize that we have a lot ahead of us," Isdaner said. "As long as we keep playing with confidence."