West Virginia gets boost from soft-spoken running back

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Charles Sims barely speaks above a whisper. The redshirt senior running back isn’t comfortable in a classroom or at a media gathering, but once the lights blink on and 60,000 people file into Milan Puskar Stadium, he’s home again.

“Charles is such a great kid,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. “He doesn’t talk — you guys have figured that out — he doesn’t say anything. If he’s got a presentation to go to, he’s just petrified.”

But it has become impossible for Sims to go unnoticed.

Sims, a graduate transfer from Houston, had a season-high 24 carries, 154 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 30-27 overtime victory against TCU last week. It was the most rushing yards against a Gary Patterson-coached TCU defense.

“He saved us; he took over the game for us,” running backs coach JaJuan Seider said. “We put it on his back and rode him.”

The focus tonight surely will be on Sims as West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) plays host to Texas (6-2, 5-0) for a prime-time, nationally televised contest at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Sims has 354 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season.

“I challenge you to find another back in college football that does more for his team than Charles,” Holgorsen said. “He’s a dynamic player.”

The Longhorns’ run defense has allowed 194.6 rushing yards per game, ranking 91st in Division I, leading to the replacement of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with Greg Robinson in mid-September after a 550-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance by BYU.

Sims had 23 carries, 120 yards and a touchdown against William & Mary in the season opener and then, inexplicably, didn’t crack 20 carries or 100 yards in seven consecutive games until last week despite averaging 5.2 yard per carry.

The difference in a breakout game last week?

“I think we just gave him the ball more,” Seider said.

It’s that simple?

“Yeah,” Seider said. “The more touches he has the more big plays he can make. We made a conscientious effort to put him in the backfield and let him run the ball.”

Sims elected to transfer to West Virginia instead of entering the NFL draft this spring, reuniting with Holgorsen, his offensive coordinator when he was a freshman at Houston. Only now, it seems, has the coaching staff discovered how to use its offensive weapon.

“We’d be crazy not to take advantage of him,” Seider said. “We’ve got three more games; you don’t get this type of player too often. You’ve got to maximize him while you’ve got him.”

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

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