MORGANTOWN - With its first open week of the season now behind it, West Virginia University (3-1) prepares to play two contests over a six-day period when it takes on 1-4 UNLV at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"Right now, we're focused on UNLV," defensive back Terrence Garvin explained. "That's the next game that we've got. We have to win this game. We've only been watching UNLV."
No one could blame Garvin or his teammates if they didn't give their full attention to a Rebels' outfit which has posted a 1-4 mark and is among the nation's worst on defense.
West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart may be without Noel Devine this weekend. Devine is dealing with a bruised bone in his foot. The running back chores will go to sophomore Tavon Austin.
"Game five is going to be against the UNLV Rebels," head coach Bill Stewart explained during his weekly teleconference. "They have lost three games this season to Top 25 opponents. They are a good football team and their coach (Bobby Hauck) is a dandy."
Still, it would be understandable if the Mountaineers gave some attention to its next opponent since that game will be played five days later and opens Big East play.
And, that opponent is South Florida.
"I think that we are mature enough, even though we have a sophomore quarterback, that when we get in that huddle the seniors take control," said the coach. "They are going to be told by J.T. Thomas, Chris Neild and Scooter Berry that our whole emphasis is on UNLV this weekend."
A UNLV squad that can present some problems, especially for a Mountaineer defensive unit which allowed two big scoring passes in a 24-21 overtime win over Marshall and has been plagued with that ailment throughout the young season.
"So far we've been playing pretty well," said Garvin. "We can always get better. We still have a lot of stuff to improve on. We have to get better and play faster."
And find a way to slow down the Rebels' passing combination of quarterback Omar Clayton and wide receiver Phillip Payne. The duo have hooked up on 23 occasions for 389 yards and two touchdowns.
Clayton, who has completed 55-of-104 attempts for 748 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception, is a dual threat when he has the ball in his hands as the Rebels' signal-caller is also the team's leading rusher with 227 yards on 46 attempts.
Offensively, West Virginia will face a prevent unit which is giving up 390.4 yards of total offense and 32.6 points per game.
The status of first team, all-Big East running back Noel Devine is still unsettled after the four-year starter suffered a bruised bone in his foot in the 20-14 loss at LSU.
If Devine, who needs only 152 yards to surpass Steve Slaton and move into fourth place on the Mountaineers' all-time career rushing list, is unable to perform Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen will, in all likelihood, move sophomore Tavon Austin or senior Jock Sanders from the slot positions to running back or could move Ryan Clarke up the depth chart or even give Trey Johnson a shot.
"He (Johnson) has been outstanding so far," explained Sanders. "Knowing that you're behind someone like Noel, you're watching from the sidelines and picking things up.
"Every time that Trey has a chance, he's made the best of it. He's making plays and that's why his name is coming out of the coach's mouth."
No Devine in the backfield could also mean the Mountaineers will put more of the offensive load on sophomore quarterback Geno Smith and a receiving corps which, at times, has shown signs of brilliance.
"I feel good because I think it is hard to run clear across the field with a Brad Starks, Tavon Austin or Jock Sanders when you man up," said Stewart. "We run some nice crossing routes, and if they can keep up they are going to beat us."
UNLV (1-4) at West Virginia (3-1)
Time: Saturday - 3:30 p.m.
Television: BIG EAST Network (John Sanders, play-by-play, Renee Nadeau, Analyst)
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium
The Line: West Virginia by 27.5
Series: First meeting between the two schools
Notes: West Virginia, which had averaged 446 yards entering its game at LSU, was held to just 177 yards in that loss. ... The Mountaineers defense limited LSU to just 230 yards. ... Jock Sanders has caught at least one pass in 32 consecutive games, good for seventh on the Big East chart.