By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There were two prominent absentees from West Virginia University’s Tuesday evening interview soiree with its players, each having been invited to offer his thoughts on the upcoming Big 12 opener against Baylor.
The invitations were turned down not by the players themselves, but by the Mountaineer coaches, and you can read into that whatever you want.
Both Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison, Mountaineer running backs in various stages of incapacitation, had stayed late in the training room, but the word that had come forth was that after being iced and bandaged and stretched and treated they would appear.
As it turned out, they did more on Saturday against Maryland than they did with the media on this Tuesday evening, Alston showing up for a play or two as an emergency back due to a thigh bruise that had kept him off the practice field all week and Garrison making his 2012 debut with two carries for one yard in his continued recovery from ACL surgery.
The result of this was an ineffective running game that managed to gain only 25 yards in 25 carries, something that probably will not hack it against a Baylor team that can score quickly.
It remains unknown if Alston will play this week against Baylor, coach Dana Holgorsen labeling him as “day to day,” which is hardly enlightening since we all are day-to-day, and Garrison will probably get a few more carries than the previous week but won’t push double figures.
“Alston didn’t practice much last week, and he could have played a little bit more on Saturday, but he didn’t practice Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, so we thought that it was in our best interest not to play him,” Holgorsen said of the decision to limit his playing in the Maryland game.
“It is a long season, and if you are not healthy enough to practice during the week, then you’re probably not going to play on Saturday. That was our stand with that. He will need to practice today, tomorrow and Thursday at a high level to count on him playing Saturday.”
That does not eliminate him from playing at all.
“Do I expect that to happen? Yes, I do,” Holgorsen said, referring to Alston practicing at a high level this week.
Alston’s absence had a bearing on the low rushing totals against Maryland, it being arguable just how much of a bearing it did have.
“I’m sure it did affect the situation, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “We have to have the next-guy-up mentality. We can’t get to the point where one guy is down so we sit there and pout.”
The next guy up was Andrew Buie, who had been extremely effective in the first two games but could not shake loose against Maryland.
“It was frustrating,” Dawson admitted. “You look at a statistic sheet and you see what everybody else sees — 25 carries and 25 yards. That’s like a golf scorecard without pictures. You can make a birdie different ways. You can chip in from the sand for a birdie or you could have a birdie putt drop in.
“Several times one guy finished a block and a guy didn’t get his hand out on a safety. That happened four or five times. It just so happens they made plays whenever the situation occurred and we didn’t get it done.”
Alston might have, as he is the one running back who can run through tackles and who is dangerous if you can get him out on a safety.
“It affected us a little bit,” Holgorsen admitted, speaking of Alston’s inability to play. “We had one back, and if we gave it to him 35 times, then we probably wouldn’t have him this week. You have got to be careful of wearing people out.
“Maryland did a good job of taking the run away. The 20 times that we handed the ball off, we didn’t get that many yards. We didn’t have the ball very much either. You are only looking at 65 snaps to deal with, and you don’t want to waste half of them for the sake of handing them off to try and establish the run.”
In the end, Holgorsen’s offense lives and dies with the passing game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.