|Senior Charles Sims needs 54 yards on Saturday against Iowa State to become West Virginia's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Known for producing 4,000-yard passers and 1,000-yard receivers on a yearly basis, Dana Holgorsen will have neither once West Virginia wraps up its regular season early Saturday evening against Iowa State.
But the Mountaineers (4-7) can produce their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009 if senior Charles Sims
can get at least 54 yards on the ground against the Cyclones tomorrow evening.
For a WVU offense that was once built on developing 1,000-yard rushers, that is something the coaching staff can hang its hat on when all of them hit the recruiting trail a little earlier than usual in December. For running backs coach JaJaun Seider, having Sims exceed the magic 1,000-mark would be a great accomplishment for the senior.
“He’s never had it,” Seider explained. “You think about his career (at the University of Houston). He’s had 800 yards receiving and it’s the same thing here. We spread them out so much that you don’t always take advantage of him enough in the backfield. He wants it. It means a lot to him. I’m just a coach; they’ve got to go out and play and I want what’s best for the (running backs) room.”
Yet for a guy who works with the running backs – and is heavily involved in recruiting them – having another back run for 1,000 yards and then point to WVU’s long list of 1,000-yard rushers can be extremely useful.
“This place is built on running backs. Whatever size they were, we still got 12-15-to- 1,700 yards, and we’re getting close,” said Seider.
It also helps that Holgorsen has a reputation for getting his best playmakers the football in a variety of ways. Tavon Austin had the two best all-purpose seasons in school history playing in Holgorsen’s offense, and he did so by a wide margin. The 2,910 yards Austin put up last year were 800 more than the 2,104 yards Steve Slaton had in 2006; Austin managed 2,574 all-purpose yards in 2011.
This season, Sims has a good shot at reaching 1,500 all-purpose yards as easily West Virginia’s most reliable offensive performer. Again, Seider will point to Sims’ rushing and receiving numbers this season when he goes back out on the road.
“Those smaller backs, 5-10, 180 or 190, well, you can’t go to all of these teams that run between the tackles all the time,” Seider noted. “The one thing we can sell, and we can show you, is we can put you in space and get you the ball in multiple ways. A lot of guys will change stuff (to get a specific player). That’s a bunch of BS. You are going to do what you do in your offense. That’s the thing that helps us.”
West Virginia has two other capable runners returning next year in junior Dreamius Smith
and freshman Wendell Smallwood
. Smith has the longest touchdown run from scrimmage this season, a 75-yarder against Oklahoma, and is the team’s second-leading rusher, while Smallwood is a young guy who has already shown considerable development in his first season playing in Holgorsen’s offense.
“Me and Dana were talking about it and Dana thinks Wendell is farther along than Charles, and that says a lot,” said Seider. “The thing about Wendell is he’s smart. You tell him one time and he picks it up. The stuff comes natural to him. We’ve got to work on flexibility and we’ve got to work on continuing to take that next step forward - don’t be satisfied with what you did now.”
West Virginia also has a pretty good running back sitting out this year in Pitt transfer Rushel Shell
, a former five-star recruit who once ran for 157 yards in an upset win over Virginia Tech and finished his freshman season with 641 yards rushing in 2012.
Shell will also have a big say in how the running back position shakes out in 2014.
“He’s been good,” said Seider. “Last week we spent some time with him and got him some reps. What I keep trying to harp on him is, look your redshirt year is over with. You’ve got to go forward and be ready to go right now and he understands it.
“You look at his body and he has changed completely since he got here. He was a pudgy kid and now he’s all jacked up and I’ve told him don’t take a backseat. Come in with the mindset that you are going to be a starter. I want this offseason to be even more competitive than it was this past year going forward to next year, and I’m planning on trying to get another (running back) in here next year.”
Shell may have played in a different offense at Pitt, but a lot of the skills that he is blessed with easily transfer to Holgorsen’s system.
“It’s still a lot of the same stuff. What’s the difference from running out of the I and running out of the Pistol?” said Seider. “You’re still getting downhill. The thing that he has is he may have a better natural jump cut than the guys we have now. Now we’ve just got to work on teaching him because I think he said he had a linebacker coach with him (in the past). There are a lot of fundamentals you have to learn at this position and it’s almost like him being a freshman again. That’s going to be exciting building him up to where you want him.”
From all indications, Shell has jumped on board and is all-in with the Mountaineers. In fact, Seider said Shell is rapidly becoming one of the program’s best spokespersons.
“He’s been one of our best recruiters here on the weekend. It’s amazing,” said Seider. “You would have never thought the kid had been to Pitt. You hate to say that word, but I mean you’d think he’s been a Mountaineer his whole life the way he has been recruiting for us on the weekend and his buying in. The kid feels like he’s part of something and I can’t say that enough.”
Seider said he wants to finish this recruiting season strong in February so the program can avoid another year without a bowl game on the horizon.
“We sell that we are one of the youngest teams in the country,” he said. “There is an opportunity here (to come in and grow with a young, up-and-coming team). We’ve had a lot of injuries and guys see that, at least in my area. We’re a couple plays, a couple runs or a couple blocks (away). We’ve got to play better; we’ve got to coach better so we’ve got to take responsibility for that to.
“But we need to get back into those areas that have been so good for us – guys that love football. That’s what we’re trying to instill with the guys here, and the guys that we are bringing in,” he added. “We need to continue to get kids from winning programs that care about it and hate losing. To me that’s where it starts. You’ve got to hate losing. Losing is no fun for anybody. I think if you get enough of that in your program it cures a lot of your problems.”
As for his current guy, Seider said he would love nothing better than to see Sims finish his brief Mountaineer career with a great performance on Saturday against Iowa State.
“Charles is a team player and that’s the biggest compliment I can give him. He doesn’t care about any accolades,” Seider said. “The only thing he cares about is winning. The one thing that has helped the whole team is his work ethic – finishing every play. The prime example is the kid will go four or five plays so hard and he can’t even talk to you when he’s coming off the field. As a coach, that’s what you try to get every kid to do, so that’s the example he sets for the team.”
The best-case scenario for Saturday’s game before moving forward to the developmental season? Win the game and gain some momentum, says Seider.
“I want them to execute their assignments, but I also want them to go out there and have fun,” he explained. “Embrace this moment. Embrace these seniors that are leaving, and not only that, but take a step forward and get yourself ready for the offseason. This is an opportunity to play football on a Saturday in your home stadium in front of your home crowd one more time.”
Saturday’s game will kick off at 4 p.m. and will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.