The Times West Virginian

January 2, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN - Reserves put in bowl spotlight

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MIAMI — No one said life was fair.

Consider, for example, it was 77 degrees here today, bright sunshine through soft white clouds.

There’s a beach and a race track and the rumors are that the seafood is fresh and succulent ... like I said, it isn’t fair.

Dustin Garrison has learned that. So has Terence Garvin. They are out of the biggest game they may ever have to play, the Orange Bowl meeting with Clemson that now is in its final countdown.

Both are big reasons why the Mountaineers are here and their season is still alive rather than having played in the Humpty-Dumpty Bowl in Peoria or some such outpost.

But their seasons are over and in their place are some guys who really haven’t had a whole lot to do, a couple of relative unknowns playing on a rather large stage.

Andrew Buie carried the ball 38 times all season, about as many times as Garrison did in the game against Bowling Green when he gained 291 yards. Buie got 138 yards out of his 38 carries.

He probably won’t be the featured running back, that being Shawne Alston, the power back during the year.

“It’s disappointing to not have Dustin,” Coach Dana Holgorsen said Sunday. “But Shawne Alston gives us a lot of maturity as he has all year and Andrew Buie looks as good as he has all year, so between the two, we’ll be OK. We’ll start Shawne, he’s the guy who’s been playing all year and has done a good job for us, and Buie’s a guy that played a lot early and just got hurt, and between the two we can do everything that we want to do.”

Robert Gillespie is the running backs coach. He knows that losing Garrison is a step in the wrong direction, but, hey, what’s he going to say, “I give up?”

“It doesn’t change anything. Obviously, there’s some things that Dustin did better than some of the other guys, but we’re still going to do what we’ve planned on doing. I’m excited for Shawne’s (Alston) role to expand and for Buie to get a chance to play.”

So is Buie, like Garrison a freshman, unlike Garrison he is an unknown, but then how many times have you read the story of 42nd Street, of the stand-in who becomes a star?

“Kinda-sorta,” he answered, which is kinda-sorta like “yes and no.” “Everything happens for a reason. I tried to prepare all season in case they needed me.”

Gillespie preached that all year, too. He understand that a backup running back is a knee injury away and that knee injuries almost never come at a convenient time.

“They worked me all season,” Buie said. “It’s not like I’m just stepping in there.”

Gillespie says he is confident in Buie and you get the feeling he’s not just saying the diplomatic thing.

“He’s a kid that we have a lot of confidence in. He worked his way up the depth chart coming out of fall camp and he’s a kid that has progressed and got better every week. It’s his time to make plays and we’re confident that he will.”

In this offense, as Holgorsen has it set up, you can survive without a real threat at running back, although it operates better if you have one.

Far more problematic is the injury to Garvin, who has been a force at safety and who doesn’t really have an experienced backup in a position that will be tested by Clemson’s tight end Dwayne Allen, who received the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football.

That the award is named for Mackey, a former Syracuse player, is not lost on WVU, for this year’s Syracuse tight end Nick Provo almost single-handedly destroyed the Mountaineers with six catches, three of them for touchdowns in the Orange’s 49-23 upset of West Virginia.

Garvin would have had to cover Allen much of the time, but now he will have to cede to a backup and while Holgorsen hasn’t named a starter, it probably will be Wes Tonkery, a 203-pound safety out of Bridgeport.

Rest assured, his resume is slight. Lifting it from WVU’s bowl media guide you get this:

• Adds depth at bandit safety

• Used on special teams

• Has played in eight games this season

• Two tackles vs. Pitt and Norfolk State (also one tackle for a loss)

That’s it, but now he finds himself perhaps ready to start in an Orange Bowl game.

“It’s a surreal feeling. I watched a lot of bowl games. I watched the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. I finally get a chance to play in a BCS bowl,” he admitted.

He’s getting the cram course, on and off the field. He gets more reps and Darwin Cook, the other safety, is helping him some during and after plays while Garvin is helping him as much as he can.

But in the end he knows he’s got to go out there and do it himself against one of the best players in college football.

Like we said, life isn’t fair ... but you just know that Wes Tonkery wouldn’t change it for the world.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.