MORGANTOWN -- Back in August, West Virginia was quietly and covertly excited about something it had done with Tavon Austin to help the offense.
He was moved from one of the team's inside receiver positions to the other, which not only put him in the most significant role in Coach Dana Holgorsen's offense, but made him the closest receiver to the quarterback each time the Mountaineers used more than two receivers.
It meant he would be Geno Smith's first read on most pass plays and an easy target on short throws with Austin sweeping swiftly across the field. It meant more chances for reverse runs and easy pitch-and-catch plays on quick screens.
WVU had a vision and was making it a reality.
"It's about using him every way we possibly can," receiver Stedman Bailey said at the time. "We can even line him up in the backfield now."
More than three months later, and after stating they would not, the Mountaineers have finally done the latter with results that might be as fantastic as they are frustrating.
Austin entered Saturday's 50-49 loss to Oklahoma (No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25 poll) leading the nation with 10.67 receptions per game. He had just 103 yards rushing all season, with 70 coming on one run in the season-opening win over Marshall. Austin was the feature running back against the Sooners and carried a career-high 21 times for a school-record 344 yards.
"Obviously," Holgorsen said, "we should have done that prior to this."
It was within the offense's capability. True, it wasn't a necessity when Shawne Alston was healthy early in the season and when Andrew Buie was slashing through the Texas defense for 207 yards or when the Mountaineers were hoping Dustin Garrison would rediscover his 2011 form.
Yet the running game slowly deteriorated in this five-game losing streak and the first four games of that skid produced just 30 more yards than Austin himself supplied against the Sooners.
"One of the all-time best," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said of the performance. "I don't know if I've seen one quite like it."
Part of the success was the surprise factor and that Stoops had never seen Austin play in that capacity. Stoops said the Sooners weren't expecting Austin at running back and they never found a way to adjust.
His side still won and the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) now have their worst losing streak since 1986, though the wonder is if it would be this way if, as Holgorsen said, they featured Austin sooner.