WVU football: Buie punishing foes
MORGANTOWN - By every metric available, Andrew Buie is a far better player this season than he was last season for West Virginia.
He's a sophomore who's been through not just a regular season with the Mountaineers, but the month of bowl practice, the winter conditioning program, spring football, summer workouts and preseason camp.
He's better because of that, but he's also bigger with 10 pounds of muscle packed onto his body and in such a way that the upper portion of his 5-foot-9 frame boasts most of the additions that brought him into the regular season at 195 pounds.
Combine the experience and the extra mass and the Mountaineers are left with what they witnessed in Saturday's season opening victory. Buie turned 12 touches into 134 yards and a touchdown and was asked to run the ball, catch passes, return kickoffs and block for teammates.
"He's stronger and he's a guy who plays recklessly and plays so hard I think he closes his eyes and runs into people a bunch," second-year West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's becoming a better space guy. He's always been a try hard, effort guy because he does try so hard, but he puts his body at risk sometimes."
Buie admits he wasn't physically prepared last season for the punishment college football would inflict. He took a big hit against the Thundering Herd that knocked him out of his college debut and prevented him from starting a week later against Norfolk State. A hamstring popped up in the third game against Maryland and then Dustin Garrison took control against LSU and Bowling Green.
Yet Buie was a factor in the Orange Bowl and he was as healthy as ever when the 2012 season started. So healthy, in fact, that he decided to test his torso with a blindside block of a Marshall defender who was chasing quarterback Geno Smith.
The quarterback scrambled to his right and tried to find some room. Buie, who was a receiver in the right flat on the play, tried to create that space and returned to the play to help.
"That's where you see the difference in Buie," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "He just understands the whole game better now and understands what's going on around him. He wants to count instead of costing the team."
The block was a statistically insignificant part of the game. Smith gained a yard on second-and-20 and WVU had to punt, and the punt was blocked to set up a Marshall touchdown. Yet the act itself was many times more meaningful for Buie and his development.
His injuries last season, first the collarbone against Marshall and then the lower half against Maryland, kept him from building much confidence. He took care of that in the offseason and now he's turned that into comfort.
He feels at ease with everything the Mountaineers do on offense and he showed it in the season-opener.
"I'm not learning the offense anymore," he said. "I'm just playing ball. When you know what's going on, you can go so much faster. You don't play as timid as you do when you're second-guessing yourself."
Buie confessed that a year ago he might not have made the same play that he did on the block. For starters, it's hard to block from the sideline. If he were out on the field, he knew the block could take a toll on him as much as the opponent, and back then, he might not have fared as well.
He knew he hadn't shown up in the same spots like he did Saturday. Things like that were made very clear in the offseason.
"He saw the mistakes he made as a freshman," Gillespie said. "He'd get embarrassed every time we'd put the film on. But he's learned from the older guys and seen the way some of them run and he's become a better football player."
Buie totaled 172 yards and a touchdown on 51 carries last season and added 85 yards on 13 receptions. He set career highs against Marshall for rushing yards, long run and receptions and his two kickoff returns were the first of his career.
He was not without errors, though. He missed the play call when Smith tried to hand off, but was instead left with the ball as Buie got lost in the backfield.
Smith was able to turn that into a 28-yard touchdown. Gillespie was able to turn it into a teaching point on the sideline.
Had Buie gotten the play correct, Gillespie said, he would have had the same open path for a touchdown and would have been over 100 yards rushing for the first time in his career.
"We make the correction and he's frustrated, he's ticked off, but he goes out there and corrects it now and makes plays," Gillespie said. "He's better at that this year. He makes a bad play and shakes it off and keeps going. Those are the things we talk about in practice. That's how you build that confidence - and since he's confident now, he's going to play better."
Buie carried six times for 80 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown on a draw play where he ran from the middle of the field toward blocking receivers on the right side. He also caught four passes for 31 yards.
Throughout the game, he showed an equal willingness to be an elusive runner but to also take a more physical approach and go at defenders.
He caught passes outside, but ran effectively inside, and managed to avoid taking any big hits.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm a guy who always tries to run around people. In some situations you can't run around someone, so you've got to get behind your shoulder pads," he said. "I really try not to be one dimensional. I try to mix it up.
"Sometimes you'll come through a hole and have to give a guy a shake and go around him. Sometimes I just may purposely try to run into him just to let him know I will do it so the next time we're in there, he's going to plant this feet. That's when I go around him. It's all a part of learning the game at this level."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.