Last season, with an inexperienced roster and no true starting quarterback, West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen leaned on leading rusher Charles Sims to carry the load offensively. Sims totaled 1143 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his one year as a Mountaineer.
He is gone and so is his production.
Entering this fall, anyone within the walls of the Puskar Center would say the strength of the 2014 West Virginia football program is the running game. Despite Sims moving onto the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, five rushers with FBS level touches makeup the WVU backfield.
Collectively Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are a solid group, but none of them individually are ready to step in and take the bulk of the carries like Sims did last season.
One guy filling the shoes of Sims is less important than the team finding a way to replace the total production Sims. With that said, it's safe to say WVU has enough in those five guys to replace the production of Sims, which will work for the team.
Smallwood has the closest skillset to Sims, but because the backfield is so crowded could get split out as an inside receiver. That will take away from the rushing production he could have if was the feature back. Smallwood will still get his fair share of carries, but also has a shot to be dangerous in the passing game whether its catching passes out of the backfield or from the slot. Sims did both last season which helped West Virginia move the ball up the field. Eventually Smallwood will be able to churn out production like Sims did, just not quite yet. He is the closest of all the backs though.
Smith and Shell aren't the same type of runner as Sims. Smith can second level explosion, but is really a bruiser until he gets by the first level. Sims danced around to elude defenders, more than Smith ever will. Smith likely will score touchdowns like Sims did last year, but he'll do it in a different fashion.
In the case of Shell, he had a terrific freshman campaign at Pitt, rushing for 641 yards while at Pitt. This offense is a little different though, so to see if Shell is the type of guy to do it all in terms of catching and receiving is yet to be seen. If he shows he can catch the ball as well as he can run it, plus stay on the field in Holgorsen's up tempo offense without tiring, Shell can be a major factor.
Now with former WVU leading rushers Garrison and Buie, it is tough to say either will get an opportunity to be the guy barring injuries to the other three. Garrison can be a spot player to give WVU a spark. He had a terrific spring, maybe as good of a spring as anyone on the roster, but he'll still have to fight for his touches.
Buie, is the wildcard in all of this. He runs real hard, and made great plays before his one semester hiatus from the program, but was never really considered to be an every down back. His relentless running style puts his body in harms way, which is great, but also makes him more effective not touching the ball on every down.
For WVU, no one needs to be Sims, but over 1100 yards on the ground and 401 yards receiving need to be accounted for. It will take Smallwood and Smith what they did last year plus more, what Shell did at Pitt plus more and contributions from Garrison and Buie to get that back.
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