Running game will look to complement WVU’s Air Raid
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 01:08
Looking at just about every good passing team, there’s always a good group of running backs to help take some pressure off the aerial attack.
And with all of the returning talent the West Virginia football team has for the quarterback and receiver positions, it’s not too hard to forget about a WVU running back unit that was also pretty solid in 2011.
While there wasn’t as much emphasis on the running game before head coach Dana Holgorsen took over, the Mountaineers ran the ball for more than 1,500 yards on the season and provided a nice complement to the potent passing game led by Geno Smith.
As West Virginia prepares for the 2012 season, it appears senior Shawne Alston has taken the lead in the competition for the starting job at the A-back position.
"Shawne has carried the momentum that he had over from the Orange Bowl and from the spring. He’s still the lead dog," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie.
"For the first time, he’s healthy. He’s able to be more than just a bruiser. He’s an all-around back right now, and he’s one of the quicker and twitchier guys we’ve got. He’s a complete back."
Alston emerged as the Mountaineers’ go-to back in the red zone in 2011. After not scoring a touchdown in his first two seasons, the senior from Hampton, Va., reached the end zone 12 times as a junior.
Last season, Alston paired with then-freshman Dustin Garrison to form a nice one-two punch in the Mountaineer running game.
That combo will make its return this season now that Garrison has made a full return from a torn ACL, which he suffered a few days prior to the Discover Orange Bowl last season. The sophomore, who plays the role of the shiftier back between the two of them, has been going through drills throughout fall camp and has been wearing a knee brace.
But both Garrison and Gillespie expect the Pearland, Texas, native to be 100 percent when the Marshall game rolls around.
"Nobody is going to talk about him having a knee brace on or being hurt anymore. He’s back, and that is how we, as a staff, are treating him," Gillespie said. "He’s taking the hits like everybody else.
"It’s getting better every day. You can see it coming back to him. He’ll get it back all the way, we have no doubts."
The third player looking to see time on Saturdays this season is Andrew Buie. Of the three freshmen to join the program last season, Buie had perhaps the highest expectations and started two of the first three games of the season.
What plagued Buie in his first season and ultimately led to him not seeing as much playing time until his 13 carries for 45 yards in the Orange Bowl was the fact that he had trouble holding onto the football.
But it’s something he thinks he’ll be better about as he enters his sophomore campaign.
"He’s looking good. He’s worked hard, and he’s done a good job being physical and taking care of the ball," Gillespie said. "Quarterbacks throw picks at times and running backs, unfortunately, drop the ball sometimes. It comes along with football, so you can’t harp on it, and you’ve got to just let him go out and make plays."
And at the B-back slot, senior fullback Ryan Clarke returns for his third season as a starter.
After getting 140 carries over the course of the previous two seasons, Clarke did not receive a single carry as a junior and was reduced solely to a blocking role. The new role didn’t sit well with Clarke, who has been able to impress and regain the trust of the coaching staff in the spring and in preseason camp.
It looks like he could be back to receiving some carries this fall.
"At first it’s hard to adjust," Clarke said. "But when you think about it, it’s not about you. It’s about the team. It’s about us winning.
"That’s all I really care about, and if they needed me to block in order for us to win, I was willing to accept it."