In truth, zone plays can be great equalizers. They don't require towering brutes playing offensive line or rubber-burning backs running the ball. And in Alston's case, he's harder to tackle when he gets going.
Witness his 52-yard outside zone touchdown run in the snow at Rutgers. He read blocks to the sideline and cut inside before stepping through a tackler at his feet. Then there was the simple 1-yard inside zone run for the fifth and final touchdown of the second quarter of the Orange Bowl. Alston, who dragged a defender across the line on the play, got most of his 12 touchdowns last year on inside zones near the goal line because there wasn't enough time or space to make the tackle.
"You have to be able to look at the defense and know the blocking and understand the system and have some anticipation to help the linemen get their blocks," Alston said. "When you run the zone (to the) right, you have to push (to the) right so the defense flows and the linemen get the blocks. Then you just make the cut.
"Size doesn't really matter too much. It's all about getting downhill."
Alston finally had his breakthrough last season with a career-high 97 carries and the first dozen scores of his career. He split time effectively with Garrison after Garrison took hold of the position early in the season, but it was Alston who carried a career-best 20 times for 77 yards and two scores in place of the injured Garrison in the Orange Bowl.
In his first two years, Alston carried 62 times for a total of 266 yards.
That was in former offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's offense, which leaned on zone plays that usually went to Devine. When Holgorsen and his pass-first reputation arrived, Alston didn't figure to move up the depth chart much.
As fate would have it, Alston hurt his neck in an offseason car accident following his sophomore season when a drunk driver rear-ended Alston's car at a red light. Alston was limited throughout spring and preseason practice and missed the first two games of the 2011 season. By the time Garrison was gaining 291 yards to take over in the Bowling Green game, Alston was emerging as the complement with 50 yards and the first of his five two-touchdown games.
"I thought my time would be maybe before my junior year, but unfortunately I had to deal with the injury, but I feel like this year is my year," he said. "That's how I have it in my head.
"I always had the utmost confidence in myself. Even when I was looking at Coach Holgorsen's offense last year and saw the outside zones we'd run, I felt like there were things I could do. But it's even like when I was coming out of high school and people were saying, 'Why'd you pick West Virginia? They run a spread offense.' I was never worried because I always felt like I could adjust and play in any offense.
"I'd never let something like that discourage me so now I just have to continue handling myself going forward."