PoG: WVU - Florida State

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was hardly the best performance of the season for the Mountaineers, but a few performances stood out -- both on the positive and negative sides -- in WVU's 33-21 loss to Florida State in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.


Noel Devine.

This was an easy choice, as the junior put on a show for the national audience that watched on television and the Gator Bowl record 84,129 fans in attendance at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

Devine ran for 168 yards on only 16 carries. He scored a 1-yard touchdown and had a long run of 70 yards on the afternoon.

While FSU's defense showed that the running back's top end speed isn't necessarily as high as many believe -- the Seminoles' Pat Robinson managed to chase him down from behind on his 70-yard scamper -- Devine did display his stunningly sudden acceleration.

It seemed as though the North Fort Myers, Fla., native was on pace for an even more massive output on the ground, but somewhat surprisingly, he only carried five times in the second half.

While the Mountaineers admittedly had to play from behind for almost all of the final 30 minutes, Devine had showed himself to be a huge threat to break massive gains on each carry in the first half.

With starting quarterback Jarrett Brown forced out of action in the second half due to injury, many thought Devine would be asked to carry even more of the load. That was not to be.

If the Gator Bowl ends up being Devine's last game at West Virginia (as he was vague when asked about whether he will enter the NFL Draft), some may wonder what might have been if he had been given the ball a bit more often.


Robert Sands.

The safety's performance could be viewed as something of a positive and a negative at the same time for the WVU defense.

Sure, the sophomore ended the contest with a game-high 11 total tackles. But the fact that Florida State players reached the third and final level of the Mountaineer defense that often showed just how well the 'Noles rushed the ball.

Robert Sands
That doesn't mean all of Sands' tackles saved the team from scores. He ended with 2.0 tackles for loss -- something one would expect from a free safety that is learning to play more aggressively while still maintaining control of his assignments.

Beyond the raw numbers, Sands simply brought the pain. Several of his hits elicited vocal reactions from those in attendance.

Perhaps that extra pop was the result of getting to play in his home state against a school that spurned him in the recruiting process.

Regardless of the motivational source, one positive West Virginia fans will have to take from the 2009 season is the emergence of Sands as a burgeoning talent in the secondary. He has all the makings of a great -- not just good, but great -- safety.


  • Kickoff coverage woes.

    Has any one play more consistently burnt an otherwise successful team than the relatively routine act of covering kickoffs has hurt WVU in the last two seasons?

    While many have criticized Bill Stewart for those problems, you can't say the guy hasn't tried literally everything short of simply kicking the ball out of bounds intentionally to try to fix it.

    He has squibbed it. He's called for sky kicks. He's tried kicking "directionally" and putting the ball in a very specific place. He's tried just kicking deep and seeing what happens.

    Nothing has worked. Even a squib -- which is typically called because it puts the ball in the hands of less-skilled returners -- failed to work when Greg Reid picked the ball up anyway and returned it 69 yards to the WVU 9-yard line to start the second half.

    In the end, it resulted in "only" a field goal. But of the four kickoffs FSU fielded, only twice did it have to start the ensuing drive inside its own 40-yard line.

    Stewart can't be blamed for the fact that his kickers seem to not have the leg to consistently boot the ball deep into the end zone. But the way that opponents find a way to make big special teams plays against the Mountaineers is frighteningly consistent.

  • Inability to stop FSU's offense "in the flat."

    While so much was made in the lead-up to the Gator Bowl about whether the Mountaineers had improved on their ability to "keep contain" (a terribly vague term, in my humble opinion) on mobile quarterbacks like E.J. Manuel, that wasn't the major issue WVU had.

    Manuel did just enough with the vertical passing game (helped by wide receivers who seemed to go up and grab anything thrown in their ZIP code in the second half) to keep West Virginia on its heels.

    That exposed the "flats" -- and offensive coordinator (and new FSU coach) Jimbo Fisher took advantage.

    Fisher followed the old coaching adage of taking what the opponent gives you. It worked to great effect for his team, which scored quickly when it wanted to and churned out long, clock-killing drives in the fourth quarter when it needed to.

    His play calls weren't complex. They were just effective. That shows why Florida State thought enough of him to give him a "coach-in-waiting" contract in recent years.

  • The Gator Bowl Assocation.

    While I'm just about to turn 24 years old (my birthday is one week away -- send presents), I already know who I want to throw my retirement party.

    These guys put on a show.

    A pre-game flyover from military jets. Lengthy video tributes. A Toyota Camry (apparently, they couldn't spring for a Sequoia). Former players leading him out of the tunnel. A speech for the whole crowd to hear before kickoff. Planting Chief Osceola's flaming spear at midfield.

    It was enough to make an 80-year-old football coach almost cry.

    In all seriousness, while the GBA was widely panned for selecting the 6-6 Seminoles, it was a shrewd business decision that paid big dividends. The game drew a record crowd and had the nation's attention.

    In a bowl system that is all about the bottom line, the Gator Bowl was a far bigger winner than Florida State in this game.

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