The Times West Virginian

August 13, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s offense showing signs of versatility

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — No matter how subtle, how new-age the West Virginia University offense becomes under coach Dana Holgorsen, in the end he knows and his players know that football is football, and that means there will be times when you just have to say, “Here I come. Stop me if you can.”

Third-and-one situations call not for anything fancy. Just get the first down.

First-and-goal on the 4, running it into the end zone is much preferred over trying to find an opening for a pass on a field that has diminished in size.

Even in this offense, there is room for power football, and West Virginia believes it can play it.

“This could be a power running team if it wanted to be,” Shawne Alston, the 235-pound power running back, said.

He wasn’t talking just about those moments when they need a foot or a yard, but all the time.

“The offensive line does a good job of getting blocks, and with Donovan (Miles) and (Ryan) Clarke, they are really good fullbacks. A lot of people don’t see it, but the little backs — guys like Dustin Garrison — they run with a lot of power,” Alston said.

The versatility that WVU has in its offensive approaches is almost mind-boggling ... and sometimes mind-jarring.

They do the finesse things, the little screens offset by the deep passes, use their deep stable of receivers headed by Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, run reverses with Austin that averaged better than 10 yards a try last year.

But they also can knock out a tooth or two, so what does a defense do?

“Any defense we go up against now will have a hard time transitioning from the different running backs we have in there,” Alston noted. “Tavon is a threat to go 80 yards on any play. So is Stedman, and Geno does a great job of getting them the ball.”

Then there is always Alston.

“I’m more of a grind-it-out kind of guy,” he admitted. “I don’t mind being low key and just do my thing.”

Alston survived a serious neck injury suffered in an auto accident before last season that slowed his development.

“I think I proved I could overcome adversity to the coaches. I had a lot of things going on last year and was able to come back later on in the season. I got better from week to week and was able to help my team,” Alston said.

He does not run at the defensive line alone. The offense line is big, physical and experienced.

Then there’s the blocking of the backs.

And that brings us to Ryan Clarke.

“He is a very good blocker,” Alston said of Clarke. “He’s got that dog in him. He’s not scared to go out and block. He’ll create that contact.”

Indeed he will.

He is a rock-hard 231 pounds, his body sculpted after a long off-season in which he did all he could to reach his maximum potential heading into his final season.

A year ago he got a lot of playing time, yet never carried the football as Holgorsen installed not only his program but his philosophy. Considering that Clarke had averaged more than 10 yards on his 35 carries as a senior at DeMatha High in Maryland, that was a departure for him.

“It was hard at first, but I was willing to do whatever it took to make our team successful,” Clarke said.

Now, it appears, he may get a carry or two during the coming season, and Alston is all in favor of that. The two pull hard for each other.

“Me and Ryan got a little relationship. He knows I’m going to look out for him, and he’s going to look out for me,” Alston explained. “I just tell him, ‘You don’t have to get a pancake every play. You just get a hand on someone, and I’ll take care of the rest.’”

“We’re like brothers,” Clarke said. “I was here one year longer than him. But it’s like a brotherhood. We’ve got each other’s back. If I have to block for him or he has to block for me, we will throw it on the line for each other. Long as I get my hands on them, he’ll do the rest. Coach wants more than that, though. He wants us to drive someone out.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.