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2011 WVU Football Season Preview: Running Backs

When is the last time you were uncertain about the running back position at WVU?  Not worried, but uncertain about who the man was?  It's almost unheard of at a football program that has been so run heavy for...well, as long as I can remember.  Some passing options were better than others over the Nehlen and Rodriguez years.  But it was always about the running game.  I was alive during the Cignetti and Bowden years.  But we didn't do anything well in the Cignetti years and the Bowden years were trumped by cartoons.  Even at the beginning of the 2005 season, we knew Jason Colson was going to start and Jason Gwaltney was going to eventually take over.  It really is something to look back and think about the wealth of talent WVU has had at running back over the years.

Now, the Mountaineers have seven guys competing for two starting spots and the opening game is less than a week away.  That's certainly not to say there isn't any talent in this group.  Should we be concerned?  Maybe a little.  You can't account for what kind of game day performer a guy is going to be until he gets out there.  You're going to be impressed with some and some are going to miss expectations.  You can only really hope to avoid the mistakes in crucial situations.  Because they are going to happen. Holgorsen seems okay with that.  Whether it's moxy or just acceptance of the situation, he plans to play all seven backs.

"Somebody has to run out there first," he said.  "Whoever the quote-unquote starter is going to be, that'll mean more to that guy than it does to us.  We know that they are all going to play.  Throughout the course of the game, we'll decide who to put in there the most.  We don't know how that is going to happen."

So to break that down for you, "The Chinaman is not the issue. " (NSFW language)  Unlike the dude, I think Holgorsen sees through it enough to know he has what he needs or has what he has.

At the running back spot, four are in the mix for playing time.  Trey Johnson, Vernard Roberts, Andrew Buie, and Dustin Garrison will all see the field Sunday.  Johnson is the only one to have seen game action and the other three running backs are all true freshman.  The fact that the unit is so young should be a positive in that it's probably a lot easier to get them to buy into the "by committee" approach.  No one's been around long enough to feel like they own that spot.  But they all want it, and if that kind of competition lasts throughout the year it will be a positive when injuries occur.  The only real way to form any opinion about who's on top is to be at practice and in the weight room every day.  Even then, your opinion may be total crap.  But at least it's an opinion.  I do have a "who's next?" feeling that I would like satisfied.  As I'm sure most WVU fans do.  We'll find out Sunday or we won't.  You know, it's optional.

Thankfully, the fullback position has some experience and stats and other goodies to consider.  Shawne Alston, Ryan Clark, and Matt Lindamood are the three guys that will be seeing time at the fullback spot.  Here, it's a little easier to see where some splitting of the duties could occur.  Clarke and Alston were the third and fourth leading rushers on the team last year behind Devine and Geno Smith.  Lindamood saw action last year more for his size and blocking skills.  None of the three seem to have an advantage catching passes out of the backfield as they combined for seven catches last year.

There were times last year that Clarke and Alston were asked to carry the load due to injuries to Noel Devine.  Unfortunately for Clarke, he fumbled at some disastrous times last year.  At the same time, he could be a devastating short yardage back.  And per the last administration, as soon as he started to get lathered up they quit giving him the ball.  I think he's the most complete of the three fullbacks.  When the onus is on blocking, I think you'll see Lindamood.  This leaves Alston somewhat in the middle, but leaning toward the skill set of Clarke.  However, if you're going to go up tempo, it's nice to have three guys with experience at one spot.

There's no reason to believe that you won't see two running backs or two fullbacks lined up in the backfield at the same time.  It's just as likely that you may not see either lined up in the backfield.  Just be patient, the answers are coming Sunday.