The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 15, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Austin spreads field at WR

MORGANTOWN — When this season started, so many twists and turns ago, there was a master plan in place for Bill Stewart’s West Virginia University Mountaineers.

It was a plan that included the Big East championship this season, something has become a rather slippery slope but that at least, considering two unexpected losses, remains in the Mountaineers own control.

But it was a plan that ranged far beyond this season, for in place was a sophomore quarterback in Geno Smith who was the perfect blend of mind and body, lacking only the experience that would come with this season.

If he would run the offense of the future at West Virginia, the man who would run as the offense of the future was Tavon Austin, a diminutive ball of mercury who could slither between the slightest crack and remove a defenders athletic supporter without so much as laying a hand upon, simply with a jake here and a shake there.

This season, it was ordained, that Austin would contribute to the offense as a wide receiver while Noel Devine put the finishing touches on his spectacular career. Indeed, it would be an orderly progression from one diminutive back to another without so much as having to add or subtract a play from the playbook.

Certainly, Austin has done nothing as a wide receiver and kick return to make Stewart reconsider his thinking. On limited carries, mostly on reverses, Austin has averaged 7.8 yards per carry and, as a receiver, he has been dynamic, including a pair of touchdown catches against Cincinnati in Saturday’s 37-10 victory.

Austin has latched on to 44 receptions and leads even Jock Sanders in receiving yardage with 528, that translating into 5 touchdowns.

You would think that this would make him almost the perfect candidate to move into that tailback role at a school that reveres its tailbacks like Avon Coborne, Amoz Zereoue, Steve Slaton, Quincy Wilson and Devine.

But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and coaches ….

As this season moved forward, Coach Bill Stewart found himself presented with a number of alternative possibilities, the latest one emerging against Cincinnati when sophomore Shawne Alston had to step forward to fill some in as Devine battled a stomach problem that him throwing up all day Friday and Saturday morning.

You hadn’t heard much about Alston this year as he nursed a knee back to health, but the Mountaineers had high hopes for him. At 5-11, he isn’t what you’d call a tall back but at 222 pounds he packs a punch and showed it as he ran for 75 yards against Cincinnati on 17 carries.

Stewart knew that Devine could not go all the way and after seven fumbles in the loss to Connecticut, he did want to trust Trey Johnson, a freshman.%

“Buddy, let’s go with him and let’s honker it in there,” Stewart said.

He’d watched Alston all week and was convinced he had something to offer, even though there were other options that included going big in the backfield with Ryan Clarke at tailback and Matt Linamood at fullback.

There just was something about Alston.

“Shawne brings some more variation and flavor to our offense,” is the way Stewart put it.

Now, having it seen it on film, those plans to just simply make Austin the next tailback are not so much written in concrete any longer.

“He really opens up a vision for us,” Stewart said. “He’s a big powerful back. We still have Matt Lindamood and Ryan Clarke. Now we can maybe leave Tavon where he is next year and run him in a motion like we do. It really gives us some good options. Maybe I’m not quite as headstrong about Tavon [going to tailback]. We’ll just see this winter. I’m really going to evaluate that very heavily.”

While the Mountaineers are loaded at receiver next season, including Brad Starks back for his senior year along with Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney, J.D. Woods and Ryan Nehlen, Austin is more of a slot receiver along the lines of Jock Sanders.

It could really turn into an explosive offensive unit a year from now with the receiving corps that much more experienced, with the running backs more suited to a power game and with the offensive line not only more experienced but with 330-pound redshirt freshman Quinton Spain ready to move forward.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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