Shawne Alston against Marshall - No. 20
WVU played James Madison last Saturday and the Dukes gave the Mountaineers rushing attack a fight. But the real contest was between Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie.
Alston was the starter and deservedly so. But Buie had every intention and possibly the talent to take it away. Alston won round one against Marshall, but a check of the numbers shows Buie won round two
Alston was a bull and ran over, around and through Marshall defenders for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Then he only gained 62 yards in 14 carries with one touchdown. Alston was also stopped on fourth and one and tackled for a safety.
Buie had his moments against Marshall with 80 yards on only six carries with a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 31 yards. But Buie missed a handoff that would have given him an additional 23 yards and another touchdown.
Then against JMU, Buie gained 31 yards on seven carries with no touchdowns. He also gained 90 yards on five pass receptions. Buie had five pancake blocks and protected Smith all day.
Alston clearly won round one of this fight that could go 13 rounds. Buie won round two.
Then came what should have been round three against Maryland and the competition was effectively postponed. Buie had only 33 yards on 14 carries. He added 3 receptions for 45 yards and did not score.
Alston's bruised thigh kept him out of the game except for two plays and he had no carries or catches. It wouldn't have mattered if he had carried the ball. He was going nowhere.
Maryland obviously watched the JMU tape, and with better athletes dominated the WVU offensive line. Even Tavon couldn't reach the line of scrimmage on a handoff. Barry Sanders couldn't have run the ball.
The fact that WVU beat Maryland by 10 is a testament to Smith and Austin. Hopefully this year's Maryland was the equivalent of last year's Syracuse game. Except this year they are good enough to win in spite of poor line play.
Baylor's defense is no Maryland. If Alston is healthy we will have round three on Saturday.
Let's take a closer look at both of the contenders:
Shawne 'The Bull' Alston
In the gold corner. Standing 5'11' and weighing in at a solid 236 lbs, is Shawne Alston. He is incredibly strong and deceptively fast. I call him "The Bull" because that's what he runs like.
Healthy for the first time in his career, this senior running back was not given the starting spot. He took it. He will not give it up easily.
After spending most of last year trying to play while healing, the time between the last regular season game and the Orange Bowl was exactly what he needed.
His running caught Clemson unprepared and he responded with 77 yards and two touchdowns. Alston saw his chance then to compete with the two smaller freshmen running backs with speed and moves.
Alston spent the offseason working with Mike Joseph and his staff at the WVU training facilities rebuilding his body. He lost body fat while gaining muscle and strength. He increased his speed and agility.
When fall camp came he was ready. Along with his physical fitness came a new attitude. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen explained it after the Marshall game at his press conference.
We all know that he was hurt last year and we didn't have him in the spring, we didn’t have him for about five games, and he got better as the year went on. Then in the offseason he got in shape. He thinks he’s the baddest dude on the field. He thinks he’s the boss in the locker room, which he probably is.
Alston was named offensive champion for the Marshall game in spite of incredible numbers by Geno Smith, who completed 32 of 36 pass attempts for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Smith also ran 28 yards for another score.
As Bob Hertzel of The Times West Virginian reported, Holgorsen offered an explanation in the weekly Big 12 conference call. “Geno is going to get a lot of stuff nationally, obviously, and Geno played his best game since I’ve been here," Holgorsen said. "We could have very easily given it to him but we like to spread it out a little." He went on to add:
Shawne Alston played his best game that he’s ever played. You can make a case for a lot of people but Shawne, based on his playing the best he has since he’s been a Mountaineer, I thought it was pretty easy. You know Shawne had about 65 yards after contact, so half of the rushing yards were him just doing it himself.
Round one to the title holder.
In the blue corner. Standing 5'9" and weighing in at a muscular 195 lbs is Andrew Buie. The sophomore challenger for starting running back is fast and deceptively strong. Buie was a 4-star Rivals recruit and had 172 yards and a touchdown on 51 carries last year as a freshman.
Those unimpressive numbers were achieved with Buie playing injured most of the year from trying to run like the champion, Shawne Alston. But our challenger was playing at a modest 185 lbs most of the year. His injuries last season kept him from building much confidence and playing to his abilities.
Despite the time off to heal between the regular season and the Orange Bowl, Buie gained a modest 45 yards on 13 carries against Clemson. He added 32 yards on four receptions.
He did manage a highlight-reel run in which he was hit at the line of scrimmage after catching a pass. Buie rolled over the defender without going down and turned a bad play into a 16-yard gain.
During the offseason he also spent time with the training staff and in the weight room. Buie gained 10 lbs of muscle in his upper torso while getting faster and learning to run in a more elusive manner.
Buie still enjoys contact and tries to deliver the blow when he can't avoid the defender. He has improved his blocking skills and even pancaked a defender on a blindside block against Marshall.
Backing up Alston in the 2012 opener against Marshall, Buie gained 80 yards and a touchdown on only six carries. He could have gained another 28 yards and another touchdown but missed the handoff. Geno Smith turned the busted play into a touchdown instead, running in untouched.
Buie also caught four passes for 31 yards against Marshall. His newly found elusiveness and power has turned him into an impressive running back that can also block and catch the ball.
He saw the mistakes he made as a freshman. He'd get embarrassed every time we'd put the film on. But he's learned from the older guys and seen the way some of them run and he's become a better football player.
Better indeed. Buie clearly won round two as he was named offensive player of the game. In the Maryland game Buie was cuffed roughed and stuffed. I'm betting the offensive line woes have been addressed. Baylor hasn't stopped a running game yet. Here comes round three!
Comments welcome and appreciated!