Next in Line
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – West Virginia running backs coach Robert Gillespie says the plan won’t change following last Friday’s knee injury to starting running back Dustin Garrison. It’s simply a matter of the next guy stepping up.
“Obviously there are some things Dustin does a little bit better than those guys, so we’ll just have to put them in certain situations,” said Gillespie. “As a whole we’re still going to do what we plan to do. We’ll try and continue to get better and hopefully that carries over into Wednesday night.”
Garrison’s injury came during a non-contact situation in practice last Friday and the severity of the injury wasn’t known until he was examined by doctors back at the hotel.
“At first you want to hope that it’s just him being scared than anything,” said Gillespie. “When it happens you’re like, aw, it’s not as bad as we think. So we had no idea until we got back to the hotel and the doctors looked at it and gave us the news.”
The one positive out of this - if there is one - is that it happened on Friday, allowing time for his replacements to get mentally prepared.
“There is never a right time for that to happen but it did give us a little of time to say, hey, this is it,” said Gillespie. “The players are able to say, hey, my role is going to be a little bit bigger and I’ve got three or four nights to sleep on it and think about it. Again, it’s hard to lose Dustin. He had a really good season but as a coach it’s our job to get the next guy prepared to play.”
With Garrison out, the bulk of the carries will now go to junior Shawne Alston and true freshman Andrew Buie. Alston has one of the team’s two 100-yard rushing performances this year by going for 110 yards in the snow up at Rutgers on Oct. 29. The Hampton, Va., resident is a much bigger back than Garrison (221 pounds) and has been used primarily as the team’s short yardage runner, leading the Mountaineers with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Alston doesn’t have Garrison’s burst in the open field or his ball skills in the passing game, but he can break tackles at the line of scrimmage and the linemen say their blocking doesn’t have to be as clean for him to get positive yards. Despite being used mostly in short yardage situations, Alston has been practicing the same plays as the rest of the running backs all season long.
“If I’m in then I’m just going to have to run it,” he said. “I rep it in practice so it wouldn’t be a surprise to me in a game situation.”
Alston’s primary concern is that he doesn’t get too tired if he’s asked to carry the ball 15-20 times on Wednesday night.
“I like to play off adrenaline so I might get tired a little bit and I might not be used to the conditioning aspect of things, but at the same time, if I get rolling I think I will be fine,” he said.
Alston has been battling health issues of his own, beginning with a neck injury that limited him all spring and at the beginning of fall camp, and then later, a leg injury sustained in the Louisville game that required him to wear a massive wrap for the remainder of the season.
“I got hit in the leg a couple of times and they were scared I was going to get this thing called Compartment Syndrome where the blood swells in your leg and you have to have surgery to get it fixed,” Alston said. “But they were able to get the swelling down and just as a protective measure they made me wear the (protective wrap) for a couple of games.
“That thing was big, especially for the Cincinnati game, but after the Cincinnati game they started trimming that down because they didn’t think I needed it as much. I’m completely out of it now.”
As for the neck, that is still an on-going thing.
“It was bad in the beginning of the year but it’s gotten better as the year has gone on,” said Alston. “We’re still working on strengthening it. They still won’t let me take the neck roll off. I want to take the neck roll off so I can show them a couple of juke moves.”
Alston admits his neck still gets sore after Tuesday-Wednesday practices and after games.
“When you’re actually playing there is just so much going on that I don’t feel it, but after we get done hitting or after practice it might get a little sore,” he said. “It’s nothing to the point where I think it will affect my play.”
“He’s a kid we have a lot of confidence in,” said Gillespie. “He actually worked his way up the depth chart coming out of the fall camp and obviously things happened. He has progressed every week and has gotten better so it’s his time to make plays. We’re confident that he will.”
Buie says Gillespie has kept him involved in the offense all season.
“I’m fine because coach Gillespie did a good job all season and made sure he kept me incorporated in practice getting reps, so it’s not like I’m just thrown back in there,” he said.
“As a coach you can tell them all you want about, hey, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready but when it happens the eyes kind of widen a little bit,” Gillespie said. “I think having Shawne Alston, a guy who has played a lot of games this year, and also having Buie, who has worked hard this year, I think both of those guys will be ready. They’ve had good practices and hopefully we can keep that going.”
- Gillespie has already talked to Garrison about the lengthy rehabilitation process that is ahead for him once surgery is performed after the bowl game.
“I talked with him immediately afterwards and told him some situations of players I played with in the past that had the same injury and the ones who made it were the guys who were focused and mentally tough and that’s what Dustin is,” Gillespie said. “The mental part, the hard work and the preparation – he can do that. I have no doubt that he will do everything he needs to do to get back.
“This is a tricky injury,” he added. “It just depends on the person and how the body responds to the treatment, but everything they’re telling us is that he’s going to come back better than ever.”
- Gillespie says this is an opportunity for both backups to shine, particularly Buie, who was a touted recruit coming out of Trinity Christian High in Jacksonville, Fla., last winter.
“I’m excited for Buie to get a chance to play,” he said. “I know he’s been wanting to play all year so he’s going to have his opportunity on Wednesday night.”
- It will be interesting to see how the two teams respond to the long layoff on Wednesday night. Clemson chose to come down to Florida two days earlier than West Virginia to get acclimated to the environment.
“It’s been a long time [since the last game]. I think our guys have done a good job though,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “There’s always stuff that makes you worry a little bit as a coach when you haven’t played for a month. I’m sure there will be a little bit of a feeling out time in the early part of the game, but that’s one of the reasons why early momentum is critical in a game like this. Hopefully we’ll get off to a good start, create something positive and get dialed in and play four good quarters of football.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has made it clear throughout the week down in Miami that he wants his team to be prepared and fresh for Wednesday’s game – but not over-prepared to the point where he’s lost their attention and focus on game day.
- After today’s walk-through at Sun Life Stadium, the team will check out of its hotel in Miami Beach and go to an undisclosed location. The Mountaineers did something similar when Rich Rodriguez coached West Virginia to a 38-35 victory over Georgia in the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl played in Atlanta.
- The Orange Bowl is currently giving away 25 pairs of tickets to tonight’s Gridiron Bash featuring Travis Tritt. Log on to the Orange Bowl’s official Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/orangebowl for more details.
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