Football Notebook: RB Production

  • By John Antonik
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  • February 27, 2013 02:02 PM
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For many years, the one thing you could always count on from West Virginia’s offense was a 1,000-yard rusher.

Starting with Amos Zereoue in 1996, and continuing until 2009 with Noel Devine, the Mountaineers had an impressive string of 1,000-yard ball carriers that covered every year during that 13-year period with the exception of 2004.

Included among that group of 1,000-yard runners were three different guys who eclipsed 1,500 yards, led by All-American Steve Slaton’s school-record 1,744 yards in 2006.

The last two years, however, West Virginia has not had that workhorse type runner capable of getting enough carries to reach the coveted 1,000-yard barrier.

In 2011, true freshman Dustin Garrison got the bulk of the totes (136) to produce 742 yards on the ground before a serious knee injury ended his season a week before the Orange Bowl.

Last year, sophomore Andrew Buie stepped in and gave the Mountaineers a 179-carry, 851-yard campaign that included a career-best 207-yard performance at Texas. He also ended the regular season with a 100-yard effort in West Virginia’s 59-10 win over Kansas, while averaging a solid 4.8 yards per carry.

Garrison, too, reached the 200-yard mark in a blowout victory against Bowling Green during his freshman year (291 yards) while also running for 207 yards and two touchdowns in spot duty last season. However, neither guy is very big and both have gotten worn down toward the end of the season.

Consequently, last year Coach Dana Holgorsen chose to utilize Tavon Austin at tailback against Oklahoma and he erupted for a school-record 344 yards on just 21 carries, injecting new life in an offense that was sputtering as teams were able to focus more on stopping West Virginia’s passing game.

Austin followed up his Oklahoma performance with 74 yards at Iowa State and 77 yards in the regular season finale against Kansas, helping the Mountaineers win their final two regular season games.

Whether or not West Virginia has a true No. 1 tailback who can carry the ball more than 200 times next year remains to be seen, but Holgorsen and his coaching staff did make a concerted effort to improve the team’s overall depth at that position by bringing in Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood at mid-semester.

And both will be able to participate in spring drills, set to begin in mid-March.

“Offensively, we had depth problems at running back last year,” Holgorsen said earlier this month. “Being able to add Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood will give us tremendous amount of depth. When you throw in Buie and Garrison, we have some bodies there now.”

Smith comes from Butler (Kan.) Community College where he ran for 984 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in helping his junior college team to the national championship game. He had 193 yards and scored three TDs in Butler’s big win over Garden City and was considered a four-star prospect by ESPN; 247sports listed him as the second-best running back and the eighth-best overall JC prospect in the talent-rich Kansas junior college system.

Smith also showed an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (a necessity in Holgorsen’s offense), nabbing 16 passes for 179 yards and two scores this past season.

“Dreamius is an experienced guy,” Holgorsen pointed out.

And while Smith is a bigger, thicker back, weighing a very solid 215 pounds, Wendell (pronounced Wen-dell) Smallwood is more in line with what the Mountaineers have in the program right now – that smaller, elusive-type ball carrier.

After rushing for more than 1,200 yards as a junior at Red Lion Christian High in Bear, Del., Smallwood transferred to Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md., to get more exposure from college recruiters. However, Eastern Christian only ended up playing three games last year and Smallwood managed to rush for more than 450 yards and scored four touchdowns in those three games. Still, the Wilmington, Del., resident is considered an outstanding RB prospect who turned down some nice offers to sign with WVU.

No matter who ends up being the No. 1 guy in 2013, it’s clear that Holgorsen wants more production from his running game this fall to keep defenses honest, and if everything goes as expected, these four guys should give West Virginia’s offense a running threat it really hasn’t had since Devine graduated in 2010.

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