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.