Thanks to Shawne Alston
, West Virginia’s offense just got a little bit tougher to defend. And it’s not like the offense was that easy to stop to begin with.
But with Alston, West Virginia’s 235-plus (and then some) running back, the Mountaineers have a guy who can consistently keep the football moving in the right direction. No hunting for long touchdown runs the way those home run backs do – just get the ball and let 'er rip.
“In my opinion he’s what makes it go right now,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “You look at everybody else in our offense and everybody wants to give credit to certain positions, but in my opinion, what makes our offense hard to defend right now is those five guys up front and Shawne.”
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh readily admits it’s a lot easier for his guys to block for a runner who doesn’t need a whole lot of room to begin with. Plus, Alston's running style really compliments an offensive line that likes to get a little nasty from time to time.
“Shawne is a great running back and he showed that last year when he got healthy,” said Bedenbaugh. “He believes he’s the best player on the field and it sounds a little cocky, but it’s how you’ve got to be to be a good player. Shawne brings confidence out there, which brings confidence in everybody else.”
The coaches estimated that more than half of Alston’s 123 yards rushing in the opener against Marshall came after first contact. Stick your arm out to try and tackle him and run the risk of Alston taking it with him.
“From an offensive line standpoint it’s, ‘OK, get him to the safety.’ Then what’s he going to do? He’s going to run over the safety,” said Bedenbaugh. “If it’s a smaller back what’s the safety going to do? Hopefully he makes him miss.”Shawne Alston
is not going to out-juke anybody, but spread people out with wide receivers Stedman Bailey
, Tavon Austin
, J.D. Woods
and Ivan McCartney
, let quarterback Geno Smith
identify where those linebackers and safeties are going, and then when they fan out to try and slow down West Virginia’s vertical and horizontal passing games, just stick the ball in big Shawne’s belly and let him eat some grass.
Not a bad strategy, huh?
“He’s got grass and that’s our selling point when we recruit running backs,” said Dawson. “You don’t have to beat your head against a seven- or eight-man box. We’re going to hand you the ball and you’re going to get some space to make plays.”
Actually, Dawson said this might be the first time Dana Holgorsen’s offense has had a big, physical runner like Alston to use to attack defenses. Dawson admitted the difficult part for the coaching staff moving forward will be to remain patient enough to keep feeding the big boy the ball when the numbers are in his favor.
“We do tend to get more impatient than the players do sometimes, understanding that you don’t need to score touchdowns on every play,” Bedenbaugh added. “Kids get like that too and they want to score points and put a bunch of points up on the board, but it’s moving the ball forward and getting first downs. If you do that consistently then you’re going to score touchdowns.”
Naturally it’s nice having a Noel Devine or a Stevie Slaton in the backfield as a threat to take it to the house on every play, but what happens when they don’t? Or worse yet, what happens when they lose five yards hunting for that 50-yard touchdown run? Well, all of a sudden that second down play becomes a whole lot more predictable to defend.
“(Alston’s) not like one of those real fast guys who maybe has the ability to take it to the house on every play,” said Bedenbaugh. “That’s kind of overrated in my opinion because how many guys can take it to the house every play anyway? It’s hard to do. It’s hard to sit there and say you are going to hand it off to this guy and he’s going to run 80 yards.”
Bedenbaugh said Alston’s skills at the line of scrimmage have actually enabled his guys up front to block a little bit differently than they did last year.
“We changed some things schematically, not plays, but how we are blocking them and that’s helped us out … how we are influencing guys and how we’re blocking them to really compliment our plays,” he said. “A lot of times last year we were running a lot of plays just to run them. Now, our plays are complimenting each other, how we’re blocking them.”
The same way a reliable SUV compliments that fancy sports car in your garage, Alston can compliment all those burners the Mountaineers have running around out on the field – so much so, in fact, that Dawson admits it may eventually change the way they approach recruiting running backs in the future a little bit.
“I think we’re going in the right direction of getting a little bit of a bigger back who can take some abuse, but on the same hand we have right now a pretty good combination with (Andrew) Buie and (Dustin) Garrison. We can go back and forth between them.”
And, of course, almost always going forward with Alston.
“He’s going to get positive yardage,” Dawson said. “He’s done it in practice. He’s done it in games. The guy falls forward.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.