MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- WVU's greatest depth of talent is at running back, which became clear through the spring football practices that will culminate with Saturday's Gold-Blue Game.
Just as clearly, the most clandestine part of the spring has been that running game.
The public will get its first glance at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Field. Understandable attention will be given to the running backs and the offense's fusion with new offensive line coach Ron Crook, hired in February after working the last two years at Stanford.
"His perspective on offensive line play coming from Stanford has opened my eyes to a lot of things," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who knows as well as anyone the Mountaineers move the ball very differently than the Cardinal. "That's never going to be us. We can all sit here and honestly say that. But you can take bits and pieces."
In the last two seasons with Coach Dana Holgorsen, WVU had 107 more snaps than Stanford because WVU plays faster and because WVU played from behind so often last season. Stanford nevertheless has 181 more running plays the past two seasons with Crook as the offensive tackles/tight ends coach.
The Cardinal has also protected the quarterback much better, allowing slightly more sacks the last two seasons (30) than WVU did in just 2011 (26), while succeeding more often running the ball in short-yardage and red zone situations.
Those are two areas where the Mountaineers want to be more efficient to better enable their offense, but also protect their defense.
Stanford rushed for 44 touchdowns on 191 red-zone carries the last two seasons (23 percent). WVU managed 39 touchdowns on 179 red-zone carries (22 percent).
On 76 third-and-short carries the last two seasons, Stanford ran for the first down 52 times (68 percent). West Virginia produced 37 first downs on 70 third-and-short carries (53 percent).
The Mountaineers aren't solely concerned with adding the plays the Cardinal used. They're more interested in incorporating the ways Stanford succeeded.
"They're just tough and they grind you down," Dawson said. "I think there are certain segments of the game where if you don't have that toughness, you're going to get beat. Short-yardage situations, when you're running the clock out at the end of the game, you've just got to be able to run the ball effectively when the other team knows you're going to run the football."
Dawson said that's been "one of our biggest problems for a while," and that Crook's addition should help fix that. If the first 13 practices were any indication, the players seem to believe the change will happen in 2013.
"Some of it is just downhill, try-and-stop-us football, like how it used to be," junior Andrew Buie said. "I feel that's how your running game should be. You shouldn't have to disguise it, make it for the whole world where, 'We may be throwing the ball, but we may run the ball.'