Posted by Chip Patterson
When West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck arranged to bring in offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State, he was investing in an offensive system that ranked in the top three nationally in both scoring and total offense. The system helped engineer the breakout of star wide receiver Justin Blackmon, as well as delivering a career changing year for Kendall Hunter. The high-octane scheme allows for talented skill players to show their stuff all over the field, with plenty of touches to go around. But there has been some concern as to where a "big back" like junior running back Shawne Alston might fit into the system.
"I think people have the misconception it's meant for a small back," Alston told the Charleston Daily Mail, "because they've only seen small backs play in it."
At 6-feet, 220 pounds; Alston immediately looks different from the 5-8, 200 pound Hunter, who picked up 1,548 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in Holgorsen's system last year. But on the field his style differs from the "scat back" type as well. Alston is signifcantly more dangerous operating between the tackles than out on the edge, but where the backs best operate on the field does not matter to their new offensive coordinator.
"The only thing that would keep us from not playing Shawne or a body type like Shawne is if he doesn't catch the ball or doesn't block or doesn't get yards when he runs the ball," Holgorsen explained. "Whether he's 240 pounds or you're talking about a guy that weighs 140, it's the same thing."
Alston saw his workload increase late in the 2010 season, and is the second-leading returning rusher behind Ryan Clarke. Clarke has struggled with ball security last fall, and his woes have continued during spring workouts. Neither Holgorsen nor head coach Bill Stewart has named an official frontrunner at the running back position, but both backs know that sophomores Trey Johnson, Daquan Hargrett, and freshman Vernard Roberts are all hungry to earn their spot on the field as well.
The big winners in the situation are Holgorsen and Stewart. They are instituting a offensive system that specializes in showing multiple looks and adjusting to what the defense gives you, and they have a handful of able backs competing against each other for those touches.