MORGANTOWN - Perhaps it would have made no difference. After all, when Noel Devine was on the field during West Virginia's 20-14 loss at LSU Saturday night, he ran for just 37 yards on 14 carries.
For the record, he has rushed for fewer yards only once since becoming the Mountaineers' starting tailback in 2008. Pitt held him to 17 yards on 12 carries in a loss at Heinz Field two years ago. So obviously LSU was doing something right.
But imagine that Devine had not injured a toe during the first quarter of WVU's first loss of the season, played in front of the second-largest crowd (94,575) ever to see a Mountaineer team play.
Would Ryan Clarke even have been in the game to fumble the ball away to the Tigers and give them the chance to go just seven yards for their first touchdown?
Might the Mountaineers have seized on the brief momentum created by Geno Smith's 9-yard pass to Jock Sanders on the first play of the next possession and not been forced to throw a third-down pass that was intercepted and set up a Tiger field goal?
And had Devine's presence somehow stopped those first two mistakes from happening, might the game have gone so differently that on the very next possession the Mountaineers didn't have to punt from their own goal line, giving Patrick Peterson the chance to return it 60 yards for a score?
Sure, it's a stretch perhaps. But in a game in which the Mountaineers absolutely fell apart with those two turnovers and the long return that put them in a 17-0 hole, it is worth noting that it was during precisely those moments that Devine was on the bench being treated.
The bottom line is the Mountaineers' offense was directly responsible for giving up all 17 points by either turning it over or failing to move it. And the best player on the offense wasn't on the field.
"I don't know if it contributes, but it definitely threw a wrench into our plans,'' offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen would say afterward. "It was very early in the quarter when we were told that Noel was down, so we very quickly had to get a Ryan Clarke thought of what we could do.''
In this case, it wasn't simply a matter of putting in Devine's replacement. Truth be told, that's actually true freshman Trey Johnson right now. Tavon Austin, currently playing wide receiver, hasn't practiced the position and Clarke, a 235-pounder, forces the Mountaineers to change their offense considerably when he is in the game.