Mountaineer running game continues to pick up steam

AP photoWest Virginia’s Rushel Shell scores a touchdown ahead of Texas Tech’s Justis Nelson during Saturday’s game in Lubbock, Texas.

When Dana Holgorsen arrived in Morgantown to lead the West Virginia offense — first as the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting and soon after as the head coach — Mountaineer fans brought an air raid siren to Mountaineer Field and prepared for an all-out assault from the skies like the ones Holgorsen had run at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State.

Halfway through Holgorsen’s fourth season at WVU, though, Holgorsen’s attack is starting to look more like Rich Rodriguez’s run-heavy spread attack than the run as little as possible offense run by Mike Leach at Texas Tech with Holgorsen as the offensive coordinator.

WVU has actually run the ball more times (267) than it has passed it (260) through its 4-2 start, and Holgorsen even went as far as to utter words he thought he’d never say earlier this week when he called the Mountaineers a “run-first” team.

“I’ve probably never said that before,” said Holgorsen with a chuckle. “It’s just kind of what we’ve evolved into, which has been under my direction.”

Holgorsen said he hasn’t had a total change of heart about how to call offensive plays. Instead, he’s just trying to mold his offense to his players.

“We have a physical o-line, and our inside three are playing well,” said Holgorsen. “Obviously, (Mark) Glowinski and (Quinton) Spain are fifth-year seniors — big, powerful guys who can move people.”

Then there’s the corps of running backs that includes Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, who both topped the 100-yard mark on the ground in last Saturday’s win over Texas Tech.

Shell, a Pitt transfer, has gained a team-best 490 yards on 111 carries, but Smallwood has also run well, gaining 278 yards on 57 totes.

“We’ve recruited some pretty good running backs,” said Holgorsen. “(We’re trying to get) them in position to do some good things when they get the ball in their hands.”

Holgorsen also credited quarterback Clint Trickett, who he said understands the game and puts his team into the right plays when the defense is giving WVU the run.

Gaining yards on the ground will likely again be critical on Saturday when No. 4 Baylor makes the trip to Morgantown for a noon game that will air live on Fox Sports 1. Holgorsen expects the Bears to use a similar strategy to the one Texas Tech used last week, putting two safeties over top of the receivers to try to limit the production from Kevin White and Mario Alford, two of the top receivers in the Big 12.

“I have to be a little bit more patient with that,” said Holgorsen. “When you get that kind of coverage and take away the deep guys and you can’t run the ball, you’re in trouble. We’re in a situation now where we’re able to do that.”

• • •

WVU’s basketball team will be on display for the fans for the first time tonight when it hosts the gold-Blue Debut at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.

A 30-minute officiated game between the Gold and Blue teams will highlight the event, which will also include a speech from head coach Bob Huggins and an autograph session with the players.

Admission to the event is free.

“I like our team,” said Huggins Wednesday at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City. “I like the enthusiasm they bring every day. I think we’re finally maybe going to try to guard somebody, which would be something new.”

— E-mail: chuffman

@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter

@CamHuffmanRH.

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