MORGANTOWN - The oddsmakers who installed West Virginia as a 17-point favorite against Colorado on Thursday night must have known the haphazard handling of the football by West Virginia's ballcarriers was not going to hurt as badly as it probably should have.
''I'm frustrated with the way it happened, but I'll never look a gift horse in the mouth,'' West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. ''We don't apologize for a victory.
''It needs to be more polished, needs more zip, needs more life put in it. And it needs to be done the Mountaineer way.''
One game after their quarterbacks threw five interceptions and lost a fumble that left them ranked 90th in the nation in turnovers lost, the Mountaineers coughed up four fumbles in the first half - giving them 14 turnovers for the season. That's a number that pushed them to No. 119 out of 120 teams in turnovers lost by game's end. The only team in the country more giving than West Virginia is Miami of Ohio.
Unlike the Auburn game, Colorado did almost nothing to take advantage. Taking a look at them individually, it's hard to fathom just how little the fumbles affected the outcome of the game, which was won by the Mountaineers, 35-24.
''You cannot win football games turning the ball over four times,'' Stewart reasoned, as most coaches would.
''If we do not take care of our turnovers, we will not have a banner season like I think we can.''
But where was the real back-breaker here?
Was it Jarrett Brown's fumble after a fake handoff on the first play of West Virginia's third series that gave Colorado the ball on the WVU 36? Colorado wound up missing a field goal.
Was it Bradley Starks' fumble on the Colorado 18 on the seventh play of a 57-yard drive late in the first quarter? No, that led to a three-and-out and a punt.
Was it Jock Sanders' fumble after gaining negative yardage on a screen pass early in the second quarter on the Colorado 20 that cut short another good-looking drive? No, that led to a Buffaloes turnover.
Or was it linebacker J.T. Thomas' fumble minutes later at the Colorado 46 when he was returning an interception thrown by Buffaloes quarterback Cody Hawkins and had it slip out along the way?
Only Thomas' fumble actually led to points for the Buffaloes, a 39-yard field goal by Alric Goodman, a man who had already botched two field goals to that point and missed 3 of 4 in the game, including a hard-to-wrap-your-head-around 57-yard attempt.
''When you play a good football team, you have to maximize those opportunities,'' Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said. ''If you do that, you have a chance at a different outcome.''
Two weeks ago, Auburn turned all of West Virginia's follies into 24 points.
Though the Buffaloes piled up tons of yardage - 392 in all - they never really moved it after they unwrapped all the gifts.
All it seemed to do to Colorado was give it a big edge in plays run.
''We're frustrated because we had 61 plays to their 84,'' Stewart said.
Stewart said he got into his guys at halftime and warned them to stop turning the ball over and go win the game, which they did without a miscue in the second half.
West Virginia got away with this because Colorado was nearly just as giving.
Hawkins, who completed 27 of 52 passes for 292 yards, threw three interceptions.
Not only did Thomas pick off a pass, so did Sidney Glover and Robert Sands, the most the Mountaineers have had in a game since playing Louisville last season.
Strangely, West Virginia didn't turn any of those into scores, either.
Devine's Big Night
Junior running back Noel Devine, who has five more 100-yard efforts in his career than any other active running back in the Big East, and now two 200-yard efforts, upped his career high by running for 220 yards on 22 carries, a first down every time he touched the ball. Included in that was a 77-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the night, the third-longest rush of his career. Those numbers easily vaulted him back into the top 10 nationally in rushing yards per game, and first in the Big East by a hair on Pitt's Dion Lewis.
''The more the game went on, the more we put the ball in No. 7's hands,'' Stewart said.
Devine's previous best outing was 207 against Auburn last season.
Devine also moved into a tie with Robert Alexander for eighth place on WVU's career rushing list with 2,456 yards.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke scored two rushing touchdowns (1 and 8 yards) on five carries. Coming into the game, he had seven carries for his career, including a touchdown on his first collegiate touch. In doing so, he became the fourth player on the roster to score a touchdown on his first college touch. Also accomplishing the feat was Alric Arnett, Tyler Urban and Will Johnson.
Receiver Wes Lyons, Brown, Reed Williams and Weir High product Zac Cooper.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: Elliott@theintelligencer.net