WVU football: Backfield’s depth could be thin for No. 19 Mountaineers against Norfolk State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's running attack finished Sunday with the fewest yards in a game since 2001, and Coach Dana Holgorsen is not yet sure who he will have at his disposal when the Mountaineers host Norfolk State at 1 p.m. Saturday.
WVU (1-0, No 19 AP, No. 24 USA Today coaches' poll) had 26 carries for 42 yards against Marshall. The last time the team had fewer yards was against Virginia Tech 10 seasons ago.
The Mountaineers rushed 36 times for 33 yards in a 35-0 loss.
Freshman Andrew Buie started for WVU and had 30 yards on 15 carries, but was knocked from the game when he was tackled for a 6-yard loss on a reception in the third quarter.
Receiver Stedman Bailey missed a block on Marshall cornerback Rashad Jackson and Jackson hit Buie high on the right side.
Buie sat the remainder of the day.
The Mountaineers played without injured sophomore Trey Johnson as well. Freshmen Vernard Roberts and Dustin Garrison played all but two plays of the shortened second half.
Buie and Johnson will be evaluated today and the coaching staff will make a decision on their availability against the Spartans (1-0).
"Garrison is going to get better and better, but he was a little wide-eyed," Holgorsen said.
"Vernard came in and ran hard the last drive we had. He ran hard and he's very capable. But we'll get Trey back and he's capable of carrying the ball. Buie will be fine, as well."
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HOLGORSEN SAID junior running back Shawne Alston, who has been sidelined for weeks now with a neck injury, has been cleared to return to limited participation in practice. He's playing fullback, though, and it's still not certain he'll ready to play.
The same goes for Matt Lindamood, a fullback who did not play against Marshall.
"He's been kind of banged up a little bit, which results in hesitation, which results in Ryan Clarke getting more snaps," Holgorsen said.
Clarke started at fullback and Ricky Kovatch played a lot as well, but Holgorsen singled out Kovatch for missing a block on the failed fourth-down conversion in the third quarter.
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HOLGORSEN HAD a very simple explanation for the low rushing total and the average gain of only 1.6 yards per attempt.
"The biggest disappointment we had was blocking just in general," he said. "You think about blocking and all you usually think about is the offensive line, but that's not necessarily true.
"Some of the running game problems were running backs not blocking for running backs. Some of the problems were inside receivers not blocking for running backs. The perimeter blocking was every bit as bad."
Holgorsen was happy with the way the offense improved within the game, the way receivers ran routes and caught passes, the way the group avoided turnovers and converted third downs, but said the Mountaineers would have been more consistent and more successful had they blocked better. Some trouble, he said, was coaching players to target the right opponents and use the proper technique, but the larger part was individual desire.
The running backs had their moments and sometimes stepped forward to give quarterback Geno Smith a chance against blitzes, which was something Holgorsen and running backs coach Robert Gillespie both emphasized. Holgorsen said the backs had negative moments, too.
"It was spotty at best," Holgorsen said. "We've talked a bunch about how we've got two different types of running backs - we've got smaller guys who carry the ball and bigger guys who block for them, but we need them both to pass protect.
"All of them need to run block, too. Playing that many backs, they all need to be in position to hold their own. They were subpar in pass protection."
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A YEAR ago, the Big East Conference required its teams to submit an injury report during the week. The league did away with that this season. Holgorsen agreed with the decision, as did the rest of the coaches.
"They're going to lie about it anyway," Holgorsen said. "We talked about it at the conference meetings. The head coaches all got together and all decided it was more work than anything else.
"You spend 10 or 15 minutes a week typing up this report to the point where pretty much everyone is either out because they had surgery and everyone knows he's out already or they're day-to-day. As opposed to putting out they're out or day-to-day, just say they're out or day-to-day."
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NORFOLK STATE is a Football Championship Subdivision team that opened its season with a 37-3 victory at home against Division II Virginia State. The Spartans, who run a spread offense Holgorsen said features some of the same elements found in his offense, totaled 260 passing yards and 178 rushing yards.
Quarterback Chris Walley was 25-for-29 for 255 yards and two touchdowns, one to 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver Xavier Boyce. Walley is a junior college transfer and Boyce played previously at Virginia Tech. Norfolk State is a bit unusual, though, because the program doesn't feature many transfers.
"We try not to make a living that way," defensive coordinator Mark DeBastiani said.
The Spartans have 86 players on their roster, but only 11 transfers - five from Football Bowl Subdivision schools, two from FCS teams, one from Division II and three from junior colleges.
"Typically if we take a transfer, it's one or two things: No. 1, a big need area for us or, No. 2, a kid we were recruiting out of high school or someone that someone in the profession we know personally can give us some insight about," DeBastiani said. "Kids aren't transferring because everything is perfect. The thing about it is if you take on too many of them, it can really ruin your team chemistry.
"If you've got a kid sitting here for three years busting his butt and doing everything right and then you take a kid who got kicked out of somewhere else and you put him in front of the guy who's been here a while, if you don't win, it kind of festers."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142.