Sims shines in senior season for Mountaineers

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Charles Sims spoke barely above a whisper and through gritted teeth, his eyes hidden beneath a flat-brimmed hat. He had hoped for a better ending.

Sims reunited with coach Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia this fall for a graduate senior season, his first and only season as a Mountaineer, and he saved his best for the finale.

Sims rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa State, and with a 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter he became West Virginia's first 1,000-yard rusher since Noel Devine in 2009.

Still, West Virginia relinquished a 31-7 lead and lost in triple overtime, 52-44.

"It's a great accomplishment," Sims said of reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. "Just wish we would have won that game, man."

Sims had come to Morgantown to improve his draft stock after three seasons at Houston, and steady production in the competitive Big 12 did just that.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. lists Sims as the No. 8 overall running back in next spring's NFL draft.

"He's a tremendous football player that's going to be playing for a while," Holgorsen said. "Glad we had him for a year."

After the departures of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey after the 2012 season, the Mountaineers were left searching for their next offensive playmaker. They found one in Sims, who joined the team in August, but they didn't figure out how to best use him until it was too late.

West Virginia has traditionally used running backs more like receivers in the backfield than as pure rushers. Behind a weak offensive line and an unseasoned quarterback, Sims saw defenses shift safeties up into the box to stop him, the offense's only true weapon, before he ever got started.

Through eight games, Sims had a respectable 600 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries per game.

In the last four games, though, the game plan changed; Sims earned seven more carries per game and made them count, racking up 495 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

The result was a career year for Sims: 1,496 combined rushing and receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns.

"I had a great time," Sims said of his year at West Virginia. "I enjoyed myself. I loved playing with these guys. We developed a brotherhood."

It was a bittersweet farewell for both Sims and West Virginia. The Mountaineers are left searching, again, for their next playmaker.

The top candidates are quarterback Clint Trickett and receivers Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts, all first-year players this fall -- and the former pair didn't arrive in Morgantown until fall camp.

Alford exploded after a midseason move from slot receiver to the perimeter. He had receiving totals of 62, 97, 76 and 215 yards in the final four games of the season.

"He's slowly become a big-play guy," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "You can look for similar things from him throughout the course of next year, hopefully. That's a positive."

Throw freshman receiver Shelton Gibson, who redshirted this fall, and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell back into the mix this spring and West Virginia's offense might have an entirely rosier outlook.

For now, though, it's a fond farewell to Sims, the plug-and-play highlight of a frustrating season in Morgantown.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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