No doubt the play that broke South Florida Thursday night in WVU’s 20-6 win at Milan Puskar Stadium was the hook-and-ladder play late in the first half.
Of course, that was set up by Robert Sands’ first interception of the year, which he returned to the 7, setting the stage.
On the first play, quarterback Geno Smith hit Jock Sanders in the flat. Sanders immediately pitched the ball to Noel Devine, who took it in for the score.
Sanders was officially given a four-yard loss on the play and Devine a 12-yard reception for a touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen gave credit for the play call to running backs coach Chris Beatty.
“We’ve been running that play for a couple years,” Mullen said. “We ran it against Auburn last year for minimal yardage. We ran it in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and it didn’t gain anything. It’s always been in the playbook.
“Coach Beatty is in charge of when we get down in the score zone. For two years, I’ve wanted to bring that play up and he goes, ‘Coach, you can’t call that play.’ Well, he came in from his tape study this week and says, ‘That play is gonna work.’ I was like, ‘Do what?’ So for the first time in three years he says, ‘Coach, we gotta call that play.’
“So I have to give coach Beatty a lot of credit for getting that in the call sheet. So as the ebb and flow of the game went, we had tried a lot of tunnel screen and that seemed like the perfect time to let that one fly. And the kids executed it to perfection.”
“We ran the screens and that set that up,” Sanders said. “It was different because we had just got the momentum back on Rob Sands’ interception. It was the momentum, so we just went with it.”
No doubt it’s been a frustrating past three games for Devine.
Hurt at LSU, he was limited to 14 carries for 37 yards.
He seemed to bounce back against UNLV, with 84 yards on three carries, two for scores.
But Thursday night against USF, he had 13 carries for 29 yards.
Coach Bill Stewart defended his senior star, a Heisman candidate at the start of the season. The problem, he said, is twofold.
“Noel Devine is not 100 percent,” Stewart said Friday on his weekly teleconference with the state media. “I can’t tell you what his foot feels like. I can only look out there, and what I think, he’s just not as quick yet and hopefully by next week that will get better. He’s gotten better each and every day. I don’t know how you can say a guy is 100 percent. He’s not as quick as he was before he got hurt.
“I kept trying to get him the ball. We try to keep track of how many times (he) touches the ball because sooner or later statistics have shown in the past that he’s going to break one. It just didn’t happen. They are good, they have a good defense and that’s the trouble. It didn’t happen. We just have to get a little bit better.”
Sands said when West Virginia scores first, it’s game over, due the to stellar play of the defense this season.
“Once we get the lead, and the offense has got to pass, it’s a wrap,” he said. “We have tremendous pass rushers and we have cover guys out there, which leads to a lot of cover sacks. That’s what we look for, get a lead, and it plays right into our hands.”
WVU has eight interceptions and 18 sacks this season.
It was Sands’ first interception of the year.
“I was looking for it bad,” he said. “Once we got the lead, I know (Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels). He likes to win. He will throw it up there and let his receivers make plays. I was just hoping he would try me one more time. I thought he was going to run it. But he threw it and I was ready for it.”
He has a lot of respect for WVU quarterback Smith, but he said he figures he knows what would happen if he had to go against the WVU offense in a game that mattered.
“The defense is going to take it, hands down,” Sands said. “The offense knows what time it is. They know about this defense.”