Bulls bottle up one of nation’s best

West Virginia running back Noel Devine’s nifty moves didn’t pose too much of a problem for USF’s defense Friday night.

The Bulls, coming off a 41-14 defeat against Pittsburgh the previous week, turned things around in a 30-19 victory over then-No. 20 West Virginia at Raymond James Stadium, neutralizing one of the nation’s top backs for a season-low rushing total.

“We did a good job of keeping Devine pinned up. He didn’t get outside much,” said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. “We tried to keep as much speed on the field as we could, because he’s fast.”

In the loss to Pittsburgh, the USF defense allowed long passing plays and gave up 111 yards and two touchdowns to freshman running back Dion Lewis, who is also ranked among the nation’s best for total rushing yards.

However, the Bulls, playing primarily in a five-defensive back nickel defense Friday, held Devine to 42 yards and 2.5 yards per carry on 17 attempts. Senior linebacker Chris Robinson, who had six tackles, said USF kept a linebacker shadowing Devine most of the night.

“It was tough because (Devine) put a couple good moves on me and I fell down a couple times,” he said. “He’s real shifty. He’s real fast – I underestimated his speed.”

Devine was held to 14 combined rushing yards in the first, third and fourth quarter, gaining 28 of his total yards on a drive that led to a West Virginia field goal late in the second quarter.

“He’s such a great back. If he gets outside, he’s gone,” said USF coach Jim Leavitt. “Usually the good backs like to bounce out to the perimeter … We’ve faced two in a row in the last two weeks. I think two of the best in the country.”

The Bulls opted for more speed on the field and used a steady rotation in the secondary, Tresey said, sometimes even moving into a dime package, which placed six defensive backs on the field. West Virginia was still fairly successful in the air, throwing for 205 yards, but the ground game failed to get going.

“Everyone was playing fundamentally sound. That was the No. 1 thing,” said USF senior linebacker Kion Wilson, who had an interception. “We had our defensive backs play deep. We had our safeties helping in the box to contain the run a little bit, and everything worked out pretty well.”

Some of Devine’s individual performances this season include: 128 rushing yards and three touchdowns at Auburn on Sept. 19; 220 rushing yards against Colorado; and nearly 200 total yards last week against Connecticut.

Tresey said he was impressed with the effort of his defense after two consecutive losses for USF.

“We came back and (the defense) really focused this week, and they had this outstanding demeanor,” he said. “They knew they needed to, and they did.”