By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A year ago, quarterback Geno Smith passed for 4,205 yards and 42 touchdowns.
He is gone now.
A year ago, receiver Tavon Austin caught passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed for 643 yards and three touchdowns, returned 32 kickoffs for 813 yards and one touchdown, and returned 15 punts for 165 yards and one touchdown.
He is gone now.
A year ago, receiver Stedman Bailey caught passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns and returned kickoffs for 146 yards.
He is gone now.
A year ago, Andrew Buie rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the team in rushing.
At least he’s back.
Not so fast.
In a stunning announcement, West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen announced Tuesday during his press conference, almost in passing in the midst of an injury report, that his leading rusher from a year ago would be redshirted this year.
That came on the heels of an equally stunning announcement Sunday night that last year’s leading rusher was the fifth running back on a four-deep depth chart, ranking behind three players who had never carried a football for West Virginia, let alone gained 207 yards on the ground in a stunning road upset of Texas.
On the surface that announcement would seem to indicate an end to Buie’s 2013 season, but you have to wonder if it isn’t the end to his West Virginia career, even though all through spring practice, summer drills and camp there was no indication that anything was wrong.
True, Buie has that redshirt year available, but three of the players ahead of him – freshman Wendell Smallwood, junior college transfer Dreamius Smith and junior Dustin Garrison — are back next year.
And that does not account for incoming transfer Rushel Shell, who gained more than 600 yards as a true freshman at Pitt after being a 4- and 5-star recruit out of high school.
It would seem very unlikely that Buie will return to WVU looking at more of the same in a year.
Holgorsen was asked how you handle telling a kid who led you in rushing the previous year that he had fallen so far he would not play this year.
“He had some decisions,” Holgorsen said when asked how you handle your leading rusher when you are dropping him out of the picture. “Some of these are decisions he makes, too. Did we force him to (redshirt)? No.
“Again, I’m looking forward to talking about Charles Sims, Wendell Smallwood, Dreamius Smith and Dustin Garrison. With that said, you just felt it was in the best interest of him and of our program to save his year.”
Funny. He didn’t mind talking about Buie after the Texas game last season.
“He’s just got to develop mentally and physically, and we’ll leave it at that,” Holgorsen said.
Develop mentally and physically? He’s a junior.
Holgorsen would go no further.
“I fully expect him to be ready to roll in the spring,” he said.
What really did happen is hard to say, but certainly a year ago Holgorsen did not have much to choose from at running back.
Garrison was coming back from knee surgery and not ready when the season started, and Shawne Alston, a bigger, different style back, was often injured.
Then bringing Charles Sims into Morgantown gave Holgorsen a different kind of back, a breakaway runner who is an outstanding pass receiver. The versatility angle is large in Holgorsen’s offense.
He also added a big back in Dreamius Smith and a speedster in Wendell Smallwood, the freshman who is fastest of the bunch.
“I think both (Buie) and Dustin Garrison have proven to be guys who have gotten experience, but any time you add guys like Charles Sims, Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood, it changes the dynamic of that room,” Holgorsen said.
Today, as difficult as it is to imagine, Holgorsen has more depth than he could have realistically wished for.
“We have bodies that can give us snaps back there, and I feel very good about it. I haven’t been able to sit here the last two years and say I feel good about it. I have always had about two or three, and now I feel like we have that depth, and I’m excited,” he said.
NOTES: No change in the quarterback situation. Holgorsen said he will play both Clint Trickett and Paul Millard and might even play redshirt freshman Ford Childress ... LB Shaq Petteway undergoes ACL surgery on his knee Friday ... WRs Kevin White and Mario Alford, both newcomers expected to be big time contributors, are out for William & Mary with foot injuries ... Among those redshirting are freshman WR Shelton Gibson, junior college linebacker D’Vante Henry and DE Darrien Howard, who just recently arrived and has not worked in pads yet.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.