West Virginia's Ground Game Shines
Texas was supposed to be the team with the power running game. The Longhorns came into this season with the deepest and most talented backfield in the Big 12 - the Lonestars boasting a backfield full of five-stars. But on Saturday night, it was West Virginia who ran and ran and ran like it had the five-star runners.
Sophomore Andrew Buie’s 31-carry, 207-yard, two-touchdown performance caught just about everyone off guard, including Texas coach Mack Brown, who admitted after his team’s 48-45 loss to the Mountaineers that he was surprised by how effective Buie was against his defense.
“I thought he did a good job,” Brown said. “He protected the ball well.”
He also ran the ball well – very well.
On West Virginia’s game clinching drive it was Buie who did most of the work. He carried seven times, making runs of 11, 22 and 14 yards to set up his 5-yard score with 1:18 remaining. A total of 4:13 was milked off the clock on that drive alone.
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said their plan was to force quarterback Geno Smith to turn around and hand the ball off to Buie instead of making throws down the field to Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, figuring if they could take away Bailey and Austin, they would gladly take their chances trying to tackle Buie.
“You look over the course of the game, we got what we wanted,” Diaz said. “So many runs out there that we will be unhappy with, but we got the game going the way we wanted it to go.”
Dana Holgorsen also figured Texas would try and take away West Virginia’s downfield passing game, so he challenged his team during the week to be prepared to run the football.
“If we would have drop-back pass after drop-back pass they would have had 12 sacks, maybe 20, because they are really good at it,” he explained. “We just felt that in the best interest of our football team (we needed) to commit to the run and come off the ball. We challenged them all week to come off the ball and be physical and we promised them that if we executed, we would stay committed to it.”
West Virginia’s very first play of the game was a run to Buie, and three plays later, Buie got loose for a 30-yard gain to the Longhorn eight to set up Smith’s first touchdown pass. Buie’s running had already set the tone.
“You never know exactly what they are going to do, but obviously they were going to take away our big play by playing two safeties high, which is a hat on a hat inside,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “We felt like if we could block man on man, we could run the ball on them.”
Dawson explained that the coaching staff had a pretty good idea that Texas would try and take away the downfield passing of Geno Smith after they studied the Baylor tape of his eight-touchdown performance. That’s because they would have done the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot.
“Defenses are going to adjust, so if you run the ball that helps out the passing game,” Dawson said. “We made an emphasis to run the ball, but it’s not an emphasis that we don’t make any week. If we see a team that is going to play with a weak box then we’ve got to run the football. You can’t let people play two-high coverage on you and sit there and keep throwing into it.”
Smith, too, gets a lot of credit for noticing what the defense was giving him and not getting greedy when the percentages were not in his favor to throw the ball. He could have easily gone against his better judgment and tried to take his chances down the field against the Longhorn defense, but he didn’t, and that is just as impressive as those pinpoint passes he made against Baylor.
“They put a nickel package out there for the entire game, kept two linebackers in the box, even with our power sets, so we had to force the emphasis on running the ball and we did a great job of it,” said Smith.
Smith was still quite effective throwing the football against the Longhorns, completing 25-of-35 passes for, in the words of one ESPN commentator, “just 268 yards” with four touchdowns. The Mountaineers actually had seven more runs (42) than passes (35) against Texas, and when future defensive coordinators see that it may make them even more uneasy than Smith’s freakish passing stats against Baylor. At least in that game everybody knew what he was going to do.
Some passing offenses use the running game as a means of keeping pressure off their quarterback, but Holgorsen uses it as another tool in his arsenal.
Holgorsen also credited his passer with setting up some of West Virginia’s most successful runs against the Longhorns.
“We see things every week, but it doesn’t mean we execute it the right way,” Holgorsen said. “I can’t say enough about Geno and his ability to be able to get us in the right plays in the run. We will call a run but that doesn’t mean he’s going to snap it and run it. He may flip it, based on what they’re doing and he did that a good bit. The guys up front did a phenomenal job of blocking, and Buie ran pretty hard.”
Dawson thought it was a performance that their young running back can build upon.
“We all think Buie is a good player. He’s young, but the more times we hand the ball to him he just gets better and better,” said Dawson. “The biggest thing was that last drive when they know we are going to run the ball and he still kept breaking through. That guy … I don’t know how much he weighs, but he always keeps falling forward.”
He certainly did that on Saturday night against Texas.
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.
Andrew Buie, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Texas Longhorns, Big 12 football
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