By Cam Huffman
There are some numbers that belong in a football game and others that have a place only on video game versions of the sport. Rushing for 458 yards, one would think, should be reserved for teenagers sitting in their basements with a controller and a computerized opponent.
But when Oklahoma visited Morgantown last year for a Nov. 17 Big 12 showdown, the Mountaineers reached that eye-popping number on the ground, behind 344 rushing yards from Tavon Austin, making his first start in the backfield after moving from the slot receiver position.
As the Mountaineers prepare for another matchup with the Sooners — this one Saturday night at 7 p.m., in Norman, Okla. — they’re well aware that a repeat ground performance is unlikely. For starters, Austin is now giving NFL defensive coordinators headaches as a member of the St. Louis Rams. And Oklahoma has surely made some changes on defense since that embarrsing performance at Mountaineer Field — which actually ended with a 50-49 Sooner victory.
“I imagine they fixed it right away,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked about last year’s game. “But it was a perfect storm kind of thing. Everything is different this year. We can’t really use that film for anything.”
But with a quarterback, Paul Millard, making just his second start and a stable of running backs that includes Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Charles Sims, a Houston transfer who rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown last week in his first game as a Mountaineer, a talented junior college transfer, Dreamius Smith, and a sensational freshman in Wendell Smallwood, WVU’s best attack against the Sooners could still be the ground game.
“We’re just going to take what they give us,” said Smith, who rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries in the 24-17 win over William & Mary last week. “If they give us the pass, we’re going to pass. If they give us the run, we’re going to run. Like I said, we’re just going to try to execute off of that and take what the defense gives us.”
So far, the Sooners haven’t given much in either area. In a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday, OU allowed only 128 passing yards and 38 rushing yards.
“They move fast,” said Smith. “They’ve always been a good team, because they move fast to the ball and they’re very physical. We know in the back of our minds that we have to be more physical than them, give more effort and just go out there and play West Virginia football.”
What OU didn’t face in the opener against the Warhawks, is the depth it will see in the Mountaineer backfield. WVU has enough talent back there that last year’s leading rusher, Andrew Buie, left the team for a year after being placed as No. 5 on the depth chart, and 2011’s top rusher, Dustin Garrison, is No. 4 in the rotation.
While none of the four — who will likely all see carries Saturday — has the explosiveness of Austin, the Sooners will have to face a fresh back on almost every play, as WVU can rotate in and out to avoid fatigue without losing much in terms of talent.
“I think we have a great group of guys,” said Sims. “When I come out, they come in. And when I come out and they come in, we don’t seem to miss a beat.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.