Pat White's supporting cast might be smaller than it was last season, but West Virginia's offense is starting to get the same kind of production it got last year.
When the duo of Noel Devine and Jock Sanders stepped in for running back Steve Slaton and multi-threat wide receiver Darius Reynaud, Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart knew both could be productive. Both had shown flashes of their abilities as true freshmen last year.
The replacements now are starting to show more consistency and, more important, are taking some of the pressure off White.
In last week's 35-13 victory over Connecticut, White, Devine and Sanders combined for five touchdowns and 246 yards from scrimmage. For one of the few times this season, the contributions were evenly distributed: White rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, Devine accounted for 71 yards and Sanders accounted for 66 and three touchdowns.
"It's how they use them," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "White and Devine force you to defend an element of the run game inside and out. … And then they have Sanders. If you say we're going to curtail White and Devine, they get the ball on the perimeter to Jock Sanders."
Both are smaller versions of the veterans they replaced. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Devine is 2 inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Slaton. The 5-8, 185-pound Sanders is 2 inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Reynaud.
Against the Huskies, Sanders caught a 6-yard touchdown pass and followed with two 3-yard touchdown runs.
"What I'm sure drives people nuts is when he's in the slot and then gets into the backfield in the I-formation and runs," Stewart said. "We can get into different formations without substitutions."
Cincinnati will have to stop White, Devine and Sanders if they want to have any chance of catching the Mountaineers in the Big East race. The Bearcats are tied with Pitt for second place in the league at 2-1, and WVU is 3-0.
The Bearcats have lost their past three games against West Virginia, including a 42-24 loss in their last trip to Morgantown.
"We haven't been competitive with West Virginia at West Virginia," Kelly said. "We've got to go on the road believing we can play better football than we've played the last two times we've gone down there."
Pitt RB LeSean McCoy vs. Louisville run defense. The Cardinals have the No. 9 rush defense in the country, but Syracuse ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns on the Cardinals last week. Few teams have attacked Louisville with a smashmouth run game, which is exactly what Pitt would like to do.
Player to watch
Syracuse TB Curtis Brinkley. Brinkley started the season in a three-way race for the starting job. There's no debate anymore. He has topped 100 yards in five consecutive games, a single-season school record. Brinkley will aim for a sixth consecutive 100-yard game, which would put him over 1,000 yards for the season. He could have some success against Rutgers, which isn't that good against the run.
Pitt's McCoy has rushed for at least 140 yards in each of the past five games, and he has scored at least one touchdown in each of the past four. … West Virginia has outscored opponents 62-0 in the second half in the past three games. … Louisville has won seven in a row over Pittsburgh dating to 1990. … Ten players caught at least one pass for Louisville last week.
Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is 0-2 against Syracuse. … Rutgers has forced just six turnovers this season. … USF QB Matt Grothe has thrown five interceptions in the past two games after throwing only two in the first seven. … West Virginia has trailed at halftime in three of the past four games. … Pittsburgh is 4-0 on the road but only 2-2 at home this season. … Rutgers hasn't rushed for 100 yards in any of the past five games. … Pitt has a minus-9 turnover margin. … USF has committed 77 penalties, 17 more than anybody else in the league.
What they're saying
"It's inevitable. But it's not a distraction because I deal with it all the time. I just move to the next thing. If we get to a position where every year it becomes the same thing, then maybe we have to say something definitive. To me, it's all hypotheticals. I've never dealt with them. I've kind of moved on and not answered the questions." – Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly on rumors he will be a coaching candidate elsewhere, from The Cincinnati Enquirer.
"Nobody has really tried to power the football at us, run the ball down our throat. UConn is the only team that tried to do that. Kansas State, they ran it 10 or 11 times with the tailback. South Florida ran it 12 times with the tailback. So nobody tried to pound us. We didn't tackle as well as we needed to do." – Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe on last week's loss to Syracuse
"The worst thing that happened to West Virginia University was being ranked where they were ranked. I wish we stayed back in the shadows and after the 12th game they ranked everybody." – West Virginia's Stewart
"I saw my head snap forward. It was the weirdest thing I've ever been a part of, one of the scariest things. I'm just glad I'm able to stand here and be able to get ready for Louisville." – Pitt QB Bill Stull, who suffered a concussion on Oct. 25 against Rutgers. He is expected to start this week.
Connecticut CB/WR Darius Butler will miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. He could return for a bowl game. Huskies QB Tyler Lorenzen, who started all of 2007 and the first five games of the season, could return sooner than expected from a broken foot. He could be back as soon as Connecticut's game against Syracuse on Nov. 15. … UConn coach Randy Edsall said he will make a game-time announcement for his starting quarterback between Zach Frazer and Cody Endres. … Cincinnati QB Dustin Grutza (broken leg) returned to practice for the first time s since the Oklahoma game in the second week of the season. Tony Pike is expected to start against West Virginia with Grutza as the backup. … Syracuse starting DBs Kevyn Scott and A.J. Brown left the Louisville win with injuries. Syracuse coach Greg Robinson declined to address the injuries. … USF LB Brouce Mompremier, who missed two games with a neck injury, could miss the rest of the season after taking a hit to the head two weeks ago against Louisville. … Louisville OT George Bussey could move to left guard if Mark Wetterer misses his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury. Bussey started at guard against Syracuse, with Greg Tomczyk at tackle.