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West Virginia Football: WVU Is Now the Favorite to Win the Big 12 Conference

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West Virginia Football: WVU Is Now the Favorite to Win the Big 12 Conference
Photo credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

WVU has been a contender for the Big 12 Conference Championship since the start of the season.

With the emergence of J.D. Woods as a go-to third receiver, the Mountaineers' stock went up.

However, they have lacked a dependable running game since Shawne Alston went out with a nagging thigh injury.

Maryland shut down the Mountaineer running game without the bruising Alston bashing into linebackers. Andrew Buie could not find a crease in the Maryland defense determined to shut down the run. Buie gained only 33 yards in 14 attempts. Offensive linemen were dominated and pushed backwards on run plays.

Geno Smith and Tavon Austin combined to secure a 10-point win.

Smith was 30-of-43 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Austin caught 13 passes for 179 yards and all three offensive touchdowns. The Mountaineer offensive line was simply outnumbered and overwhelmed.

Many fans and sportswriters began seeing WVU as a one-dimensional team and questioned how far even a Heisman Trophy favorite could take them. 

A porous defensive backfield only added to its woes. There just didn't seem to be an answer to having Alston out of the lineup.

Then Baylor brought its shootout to town.

Photo credit: shreveporttimes.com

The Bears brought a blistering passing game, but even the talented Nick Florence couldn't win a shootout with Smith.

Almost unnoticed, something else happened to assist in the win.

The offensive line occasionally opened a crease for Buie and he gained 82 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Then people said you can't expect a little player like Buie to carry the ball 25 times a game. 

Popular opinion was a bigger back had to step up to help Buie or WVU wouldn't be able to run the ball. The rationale seemed to be WVU needed a big tailback to get the short yardage and loosen up the defense.

WVU traveled to Texas this past Saturday and faced a defense tougher than any it had faced so far this season. Alston did not make the trip.

The Texas defense set its sights on stopping Smith's passing and containing the run. He had a tough day physically, but he was still Geno Smith. He completed 25-of-35 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

The fierce Texas rush did manage to sack Smith multiple times and strip him of the ball twice, turning one fumble into an instant touchdown.

I predicted Cody Clay would get a few carries, as he was already playing "B" back part-time and was a crushing blocker.

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Others hoped Ryan Clarke would play and would get another shot at "A" back. Clarke and Clay shared the "B" back position and both blocked well. But no new bruising "A" back. The offensive line opened a few creases and sometimes holes with Clay's help.

A muscular 5'9", 195-pound "A" back named Buie stepped up to the challenge in the running game.

The same Andrew Buie everyone was dismissing as too small. He blocked effectively and caught three passes for 66 yards. He hit those holes and creases, determined not to go down.

Buie sidestepped, rammed and even carried defenders for extra yards.

Buie ran the ball down the throat of the Texas defense, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He gained 207 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns. And when he was done, he didn't walk to the sideline. He ran.

Would it be nice to have Alston back? Absolutely. When Alston recovers, does that mean Buie sits and Alston becomes the featured "A" back again? I don't think so.

It looks like it's Buie's job to lose now. If Alston can stay healthy and take it back, he will. Either way, the Mountaineers just added another dimension back into their offense.

One more thing: The defensive backs improved as the game went along. And guess who broke up two deep passes that Texas badly needed late in the game? The much-maligned Pat Miller.

Karl Joseph hit Texas receiver Goodwin so hard he caused a fumble. I thought for a minute he had killed him. (He came back in later)

The re-emergence of an effective running game and an improving defensive secondary can only mean one thing: In the Big 12, WVU is now the one to beat.

No disrespect to either Kansas State or Oklahoma; those are going to be two tough games for WVU. But they will both be played in Morgantown, WV.

Comments welcome and appreciated!

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