MORGANTOWN - Noel Devine is apparently hobbled again, the field conditions could be poor and one of the most encouraging aspects about West Virginia's underperforming offense lately has been the play of a big back.
So, does all of that combine to spell more of an opportunity for Shawne Alston when West Virginia faces Pitt Friday in the 103rd Backyard Brawl?
Well, maybe, maybe not.
Part of it no doubt depends upon the health of Devine, who for nearly two months now has struggled to regain anything close to his past form after suffering a painful bone bruise on the bottom of a foot.
And, too, field conditions could play a role. Heinz Field in Pittsburgh was criticized for being in poor shape last weekend when the Steelers beat the Raiders. With potential rain and snow in the forecast Friday, things may be even worse this week.
"We'll have two plans and look up and see which way we need to go,'' West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said, referring specifically to the health of Devine, who was reinjured last week against Louisville. "That's really the gist of it.''
Other factors, though, will no doubt contribute.
In addition to Devine's health and the field conditions, there is also the Pitt defense to consider. The Panthers play a four-man front with four excellent linemen and three powerful linebackers. And while Alston has had some success the past two weeks running against Cincinnati and Louisville, those were not necessarily big, tough defenses. Louisville's was better than Cincinnati's, for certain, but the Cardinals were effective against WVU because of a variety of blitzes, not sheer strength up front.
That's one of the reasons Alston was able to run 17 times for 75 yards against Cincinnati and seven times for 36 yards against Louisville.
"You have to think toward O-line, D-line matchups,'' Mullen said. "Playing these guys in a phone booth might not be in our best interest.''
What that means is instead of attacking Pitt's power up front with a power running game, perhaps the better strategy would be to out-quick the Panthers with Devine and other small backs like Tavon Austin.
Again, though, field conditions and Devine's health could play a role in dictating how the Mountaineers approach the problem.
If Alston is needed, though, he's more than ready.