By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This is sort of the eternal question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, football style, and it was put to West Virginia University running back Andrew Buie on Tuesday night following the final real practice of the spring.
All that was left was a walkthrough on Thursday and then Saturday’s 2 p.m. spring game, so it was time to look into just where this year’s offense might wind up.
As anyone who follows West Virginia football knows, last year’s offense was as prolific as any the school ever had, but the question was if that was so because of the system that coach Dana Holgorsen has put together or if it was the result of having at least two first-round NFL draft picks in quarterback Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, a record-shattering receiver in Stedman Bailey, who seems headed for the second or third round, and another NFL offensive draft choice in center Joey Madsen.
That, you see, is this chicken or the egg thing. Does the system make the players or do the players make the system? It is terribly important because this year’s players do not seem to be of the star quality that last year’s players were.
“It’s a common ground between the two. It’s a great system, but you have to have players who allow the system to remain great. It goes hand in hand. It is a great system, and I feel we have the right players to run it,” Buie said.
Certainly, the players who will go on display in the spring game are far less known than were last year’s. No one, including Holgorsen, even knows who the quarterback will be, Paul Millard or Ford Childress, and the top returning receiver is Connor Arlia, who caught only seven of the 378 passes WVU completed last season.
Is that a big thing?
“Not really,” Buie answered. “The guys in that huddle, we don’t pay attention to what people are saying on the outside. We have to come together as a group, as a unit, every day and try to get better. Every day, running the ball, passing the ball, communicating, tempo … we feel like we can get better every day. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. That’s our biggest thing right now.”
What may be most intriguing is that Holgorsen has always had a pass-first offense, one which featured the likes of Smith and Austin and Bailey and that has produced star quarterbacks like Graham Harrell, Case Keenum and Brandon Weeden and Biletnikoff Award receivers Michael Crabtreee and Justin Blackmon.
But this year that may have to change, especially if it is the players who make the system rather than the system making the players, for the strength seems to be running back Buie, Dustin Garrison and newcomer Dreamius Smith, with Cody Clay providing a versatile inside blocker and possession receiver.
“I think it will be going back to the style of ball West Virginia is used to seeing … great running attacks and being able to throw the ball,” said Buie. “I think we will have one of the most balanced attacks in the country, simply because our running game is going to be stronger and our passing game will be what our passing game always is, regardless of the quarterback.
“Once the quarterbacks get up to speed and have that confidence and have that rhythm, I feel we could have one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.”
And that could make the running game even more dangerous.
See, Garrison rushed for nearly 300 yards in one game as a freshman before injuring his knee, and Buie had a game last year in which he went over 200 yards. If the two of them are healthy and sharing duties, it could be that WVU will have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers … and that doesn’t say what Smith, a power back who may be as good as either of the other two as a junior college product, will produce.
“Obviously, every game you want to go out and run for 200 yards or have a 100-yard game, but sometimes you have to understand you aren’t meant to have a 100-yard game,” Buie said. “It’s just patience and being able to understand when it is your time and when it’s not your time. When your time comes, you have to be ready to go.”
And Buie believes they have all that and more.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to do almost anything we want to do this year. Our running game will be better than it has been the past two years. Having a better running game will open up the passing game, so I think we will be pretty efficient.”
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WVU basketball player Keaton Miles underwent unannounced wrist surgery in the early-morning hours on Wednesday. The wrist was injured in mid-season and it could explain why he was not as productive as expected and did not play as much as coach Bob Huggins would have liked.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.