West Virginia's Alston gets back on field after missing five games

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Shawne Alston smiled that wry, knowing smile of his.

Collapsed into a chair in the team room of the football offices at West Virginia earlier this week, he told another tale of injury and return -- the second significant, game-consuming injury of his career as a Mountaineer.

The smile? The thigh-bruise that wouldn't quit finally has healed enough to get the team's most effective running back on the field again. West Virginia will try to break a three-game losing skid today at Oklahoma State, and the running game will be needed.

"It'll be all right. Nobody plays football at 100 percent," said Alston, a senior. "I'm going to get back to 100 percent. My treatment regimen is crazy right now. I'm always in there. They're going to put a picture of me in there one day I'm in there so much."

Scouting report
  • Matchup: West Virginia (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. today, Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla. Oklahoma State is favored by 9 1/2 points.
  • TV, Radio, Internet: WTAE, Mountaineer Sports Network, Sirius 92, XM 196.
  • West Virginia: QB Geno Smith has thrown five touchdowns in the past three games after throwing 24 in the first five. ... WR Tavon Austin has been the team's most consistent player with 85 catches for 889 yards, and 10 TDs. ... Dana Holgorsen was OSU's offensive coordinator before joining the Mountaineers. ... Defense flashed improvement vs. TCU but still is ranked No. 120 in pass defense (350 ypg), No. 111 in total defense (482.50) and 116 in scoring defense (39.75 points per game).
  • Oklahoma State: Unclear if Wes Lunt or Clint Chelf will be at quarterback after Lunt was injured last week. ... RB Joseph Randle is the No. 14 rusher in Division I-A with 116.8 yards per game. ... Cowboys are No. 2 in total offense (575.88 ypg), No. 3 in passing offense (355.88) but rank No. 110 in turnover margin (-1.13).
  • Hidden stat: Austin has double-digit catches in all but one game in 2012 (Kansas State), and touchdowns in all but one (at Texas Tech).

Alston's bruise, suffered Sept. 15 against James Madison, was so deep it reached the bone. He had to make two trips to the hospital to have blood drained from it, and a specialist from Atlanta had to help break up calcification that had formed around the damage.

His spirits stayed high.

Alston spent much of last season struggling to return from a neck injury. He was a breakout performer in preseason camp this year and was expected to shoulder much of the load in the run game.

After being injured against James Madison, Alston missed five games. He returned in a limited capacity last Saturday against TCU and picked up 16 yards on seven carries and ran for a touchdown.

Alston isn't the only reason there is a lack of depth at running back. Dustin Garrison also has been limited, returning from major knee surgery after being injured in an Orange Bowl practice last season. Without Alston and Garrison, the bulk of responsibility fell to sophomore Andrew Buie.

Problems with the running game fueled quarterback Geno Smith's frustration after the double overtime loss to the Horned Frogs.

The run game yielded 78 yards with TCU focusing more on the passing threat.

"Teams are disrespecting our running game. They are totally disregarding it and putting one linebacker in the box against our sets," Smith said. "We understand that we have to run the ball. We have to be a balanced offense in order to be good. In the games we have excelled in and done great in, we ran the ball well and passed the ball well."

Coach Dana Holgorsen said it's a misconception that dropping eight in coverage means there are fewer in the box.

"There are deep safeties, which means we have to run the ball, and we average 2 yards a rush; that's not good," said Holgorsen. "It's more about us than it [was] TCU. TCU is pretty good at run defense; they always have been. We didn't do a great job of finishing blocks. When we play tougher teams and it gets hard, we need to find a way to get it done and we didn't."

Inconsistency in run blocking by the offensive line also has been a problem. Against Oklahoma State today, offensive lineman Jeff Braun said it will come down to everyone doing his part.

"We just have to work as a unit. That is one thing that you see. You can have four guys blocking their butts off and trying to finish their job, but then one guy doesn't do it, that can ruin the play," Braun said. "That is the biggest difference in college football. You need to have all five offensive linemen working as a cohesive unit, and if not then you aren't going to get anywhere."

As for Alston, he is raring to get out on the field again despite being limited.

"There's a little bit of lingering effects, but most of those things are going away," he said. "It's an issue of getting the strength back and mobility back."

Does he ever ponder why these long nagging injuries seem to plague him? "I [was] thinking it's karma. Probably did something bad one day in my life. I don't know," he said, with, of course, a smile.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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