Part of the offensive struggle during the slide is tied to the lack of a running game. Again and again players and coaches bemoaned the void and how it affected the passing game. Opponents were content to drop defenders to guard Smith's throws and cover the routes his receivers would run. Neither Buie nor Garrison, or even Alston when he made a brief return, would discourage that.
WVU used Austin for a few plays in the backfield against Oklahoma State, but the results weren't so great that they could predict what happened Saturday. The coaches didn't require any convincing, though. They already knew and Austin said Saturday that Holgorsen had joked recently how Austin "should have been pushing more" to play running back before.
"We don't need evidence to know Tavon Austin makes plays," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "Practice didn't allow us to know that."
Tired of waiting on the running game and confident Austin could hit open spaces against Oklahoma's defense, and then convince the safeties to close those open spaces and creep forward, the Mountaineers leaned on Austin from the start.
The Sooners (8-2, 6-1) were spinning and called a timeout after just four plays. By the end of the game, Austin had the highest single-game average in the country this season (16.4 yards per carry) and five of the team's six longest rushes this season - and his 70-yard dash against the Marshall is the second longest, meaning he has the six best runs.
Not at all coincidentally, Smith passed for 320 yards and four scores against a pass defense that was No. 2 in pass efficiency and No. 8 in passing yards allowed per game and had only given up three passing touchdowns in nine games. Smith had 41-, 35-, and 40-yard completions against Oklahoma, which had locked safety Tony Jefferson on Austin and made its safeties move closer to the line.
"The trend it seems since maybe the Baylor game was playing two (defenders) deep and taking the safeties out of the equation and the linebackers out of the equation and forcing us to run the ball," Smith said. "When the safeties and linebackers and whoever have to play the run, they can't keep up with the passing game. We were able to get behind them a couple times."
It was remarkably simple, too, as Austin ran variations of one play that only looked different because of the formations that disguised them.
"Two plays," he said. "To the left and to the right."
It wasn't difficult to prepare Austin for one play and he didn't need more than a few carries to feel like he did when he was back at Baltimore's Dunbar High School. Austin had arguably the best prep career in Maryland history as a running back with state records of 7,962 yards and 123 touchdowns. He had 2,660 yards and 34 touchdowns on 218 carries as a senior.
"Next game I will be back there, and performing like I did (Saturday), they'll probably have a couple more things in there waiting for me," he said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.