Brandon Hogan has always been a player who needed to have the ball in his hands. As a standout quarterback at Osbourn High in Manassas, Va., Hogan passed (2,539 yards and 32 touchdowns) and ran (1,735 yards and 26 touchdowns) his team to the Virginia state championship.
After being moved from slot receiver to cornerback during August camp, though, Hogan had to come to grips with the fact that the only way he would be touching the ball this season would be via an interception or fumble recovery.
It might have taken him seven games to get his feet wet, but Hogan finally regained a familiar grip on the pigskin during Saturday's 35-13 win over Connecticut. The sophomore picked off a pair of errant Cody Endres passes and recovered a first-half fumble in West Virginia's win over the Huskies.
"(Defensive backs coach David Lockwood) has been telling us that we need to get some picks in the secondary," Hogan said. "I think that our linebackers have more than us. We were excited as a secondary getting some picks today."
Indeed, West Virginia's linebackers did have four interceptions in 2008 prior to Saturday's game (two by Mortty Ivy, one each by Reed Williams and John Holmes). Cornerback Ellis Lankster and safety Nate Sowers were the only secondary members with picks. Hogan's interceptions would have tied the respective defensive units with four each were it not for Ivy's third-quarter pick.
Once he had the ball back in his hands, Hogan was looking for the end zone for what would have been the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
"Yeah. I was. I was looking for six on both of them," he admitted. "It brings back memories. I just try to go to the house I guess.
West Virginia's offense received a couple of proverbial shots in the arm midway through Saturday's win in East Hartford. The most apparent came from the play of Jeff Casteel's defense, which set up three Mountaineer touchdowns with second-half turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble recovery).
"That's a big lift," said senior wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh, who finished with five catches for 73 yards. "The defense helps us. Without the defense, we're nothing. Really, the defense has sparked the offense into doing well."
An earlier shot in the arm came at halftime when head coach Bill Stewart conveyed his displeasure with the sluggish first-half performance which resulted in a 13-7 UConn lead through two quarters.
"We needed to hear him," Jalloh admitted. "He says a lot of things that we need to hear and it's great for us to have a coach like Coach Stew to motivate us and to hear his passion. That's something that a lot of people don't get to hear or see, his passion inside the locker room. That catapults us to victories. We feed off of it."
Mortty Ivy's fourth quarter interception was his third pick of the year. His combined return yardage on those three interceptions is 48, with a long of 29 on a pick six in the season-opening win over Villanova.
If Ivy were an offensive player, his 48 receiving yards would tie him with Will Johnson for sixth place on the team. Might his size (6-2, 236 pounds) and increasingly-apparent soft hands make him a viable goalline option a la Mike Vrabel?
"Hey, I always tell (wide receivers coach Lonnie) Galloway to get me the ball," Ivy joked after the game. "They don't ever give it to me, so to them I say forget you. I'll get it on defense."
Ivy's interception set up Patrick White's second touchdown run of the day to put West Virginia over the 30-point plateau for the second straight week.
Dorrell Jalloh's 35-yard reception in the third quarter seemed to spark the West Virginia offense on the afternoon. On the play, Jalloh lined up in the I-formation at fullback
"It was a little trick," explained offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen afterward. "As (ESPN studio host) Rece Davis would say, ‘a little trickeration'. We were hoping that they wouldn't see him there and notice. It was a call coming off of the sideline (after a TV timeout), which I think helped us hit it."
Jalloh lining up at a different spot could have tipped the Huskies off that something was awry. With that in mind, tailback Noel Devine did all he could to disguise his out-of-position teammate.
"Noel, I don't know if you noticed, did a really cool thing. He kind of stood up next to (Jalloh) trying to hide him a little bit," Mullen noted. "As big as Noel is, like he can hide somebody?"
While Devine's 5-7 frame probably disguised Jalloh's identity about as well as a pair of Groucho glasses, the end result of the play was exactly what West Virginia was looking for.
"It gave them a little bit of a different look," Mullen said. "We executed that play well. If we could have executed some of those other plays, those other home runs (in the first half), it would have been a lot different statistically, but we got the W and that's the most important thing."
As for Jalloh, his versatility continues to show up from week to week.
"That's just another notch on my resume. I can lineup and play fullback now also," he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.