By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The world of West Virginia University football has changed over the years, gone from the run-first days of Amos Zereoue and Avon Cobourne, from Pat White and Steve Slaton to a more modern pass-happy game brought to town by coach Dana Holgorsen.
But sometimes just because you want to break with tradition does not mean it is the best path to take, and over the last year WVU’s idea of throwing 30, 40 or 50 passes a game has not produced a lot of victories.
This is why, on Saturday when the Mountaineers carried a three-game losing streak into Fort Worth, Texas, to face a pass-happy TCU team with their season teetering in the balance, it turned out that WVU had to break loose the running of Charles Sims to turn the game in the Mountaineers’ favor.
Sims came to WVU this year from Houston after graduating there with a year’s eligibility left, reuniting with Holgorsen, who had coached him his freshman year, which was his best season. He came to WVU with glowing reviews for his versatility, his ability to run and as a pass receiver.
The problem was that WVU really didn’t have the parts at quarterback or receiver to draw attention away from him. Three players have started at quarterback with Holgorsen finally settling on Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, while a group of new receivers has had enough trouble just learning the system, let alone having a chance to get comfortable with the quarterbacks.
Some games for Sims were solid as he became WVU’s top rusher and second-leading receiver, but until the TCU game he hadn’t been able to show all that he did best.
It came at the most opportune time, for a loss at TCU would have been devastating to the season, but Sims scored a 31-yard TD to get WVU back into a game that was slipping away, while a 13-yard TD reception with a nifty run and dive into the corner of the end zone carried WVU into control.
It was obvious Trickett couldn’t carry the load himself, throwing a couple of interceptions, having another that was run back for a touchdown eliminated by a penalty and yet another one dropped, so they needed a spark elsewhere.
“I thought we developed a running game somewhere in the first quarter or the second quarter, and it took some of the pressure off us,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “We needed to have some success early. That kid right there, I can’t say enough about that kid right there. That’s pretty good. That doesn’t happen a lot against Coach (Gary) Patterson. He was the catalyst, no doubt.”
“That kid right there” was Sims. He finished with 154 yards on 24 carries, 6.4 per carry and added three catches for 35 yards and the touchdown.
“I think we did a good job getting him involved in a lot of different ways,” said Dawson, who had planned to involve him in a lot of ways in this game. “If he’s playing well, you’re going to ride him. He’s the type of guy who can do a number of things. It was good to see him take over today and to showcase his style.”
That has not been the case all year. For whatever reason, WVU prefers to spread the field and throw the ball, many of the passes little more than long handoffs, but Holgorsen prefers that style of offense to what historically has been characteristic of WVU ball, be it with Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez or Bill Stewart as coach.
This year, though, the WVU offensive line was showing much improvement, and that meant the running game might be ready to move forward.
“I think the O-line has been getting better every week,” Dawson said. “I thought last week, even though we scored only 13 points, I thought the O-line played physical and played good. I just didn’t think we played very good around them.”
Leaning more on Sims has allowed the offense to make a lot of changes at a time when it needed them the most.
“I think we did a good job getting him involved in a lot of different ways,” Dawson said. “If he’s playing well, you’re going to ride him. He’s the type of guy who can do a number of things. It was good to see him take over today and to showcase his style.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.