West Virginia's Austin cures rushing woes

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Faced with a run game that had fizzled before it ever took off, West Virginia's coaches hatched a plan last week they thought might help them sneak by Oklahoma.

That plan was getting slot receiver Tavon Austin the ball in the backfield.

Ultimately, the Mountaineers still lost, 50-49, but what transpired Saturday night was nothing short of a stunning performance by Austin.

He set a Divison I-A record this season with 572 all-purpose yards, including a West Virginia record 344 rushing yards, and was 6 yards shy of tying the all-time I-A record set by Emmitt White of Utah State in 2000.

Expect he will be lining up in the backfield for the team's final regular season games at Iowa State and home against Kansas Dec. 1 as his team tries to become bowl-eligible and snap what is now a five-game losing streak.

"We haven't been able to run the ball so we had to do something," said Coach Dana Holgorsen. "Obviously he goes for 344 yards ... it probably should have been done four years ago. ... In hindsight we obviously should have done it prior to this."

That's might have been what folks back in Baltimore, Md., were saying, too, Sunday morning.

At Dunbar High School in Baltimore Austin rushed for 2,660 yards as a senior with 34 touchdowns on just 218 carries.

That an average of 12.2 yards per carry.

"The week before we tried to find ways just to move him around and get him a few more touches," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "Handing him the ball was the next step. We just didn't know if he could handle the load."

Austin had 21 carries -- reeling off rushes of 31, 74, 56 and 47 yards. He also ran 4 yards for a touchdown by juking a pair of goal-line defenders.

His burst and speed, ability to make defenders miss was stunning.

"He put us on his back. It's been a long time since I've seen a performance like that. He let us know he can do it," said Gillespie. "Next two weeks we'll continue to find ways to ride him on in."

Austin said it was just like riding a bike.

"It probably took me about two or three plays, but everything came back in how I would read blocks and it worked," said Austin. "Being in the backfield, it felt like I was back at Dunbar. But I have to give credit to the coaching staff, the offensive line, Geno making the right checks. I was able to make a couple people miss in open space."

His ability to make Oklahoma respect the run also paid dividends in the passing game.

Quarterback Geno Smith completed 20 of 35 passes for 320 yards. He threw two interceptions but only one led to Oklahoma points, a field goal. Receiver Stedman Bailey had 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns.

"No question. They go hand-in-hand," said Gillespie. "Stedman got open because he worked hard. He worked hard. Geno put the ball on the money. This is the second week in a row the old Stedman Bailey is back."

The run game hasn't been the same since the second game of the season when Shawne Alston was injured against James Madison with a deep thigh bruise.

The team was able to rely on ground yards in a key win against Texas, getting 207 from Andrew Buie, but the team hadn't surpassed 100 yards since getting 130 against Texas Tech.

The team totaled just 78 rushing yards against Oklahoma State, 78 against TCU and 88 against Kansas State.

"Next two weeks we'll continue to find ways to ride him on in," Gillespie said of Austin. "He's a senior and we've got to jump on his back."

All 5-foot-9, 171 pounds of him.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published November 19, 2012 5:00 AM


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