Andrew Buie (All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks)
Depth abounds at running back for WVU heading into fall camp. With the addition of Houston transfer Charles Sims the mountaineers will have a plethora of backs at their disposal, which will provide the offense with plenty of versatility out the backfield. Andrew Buie returns for his junior campaign giving WVU much needed experience as the offense tries to break in a new quarterback. Dustin Garrison is also back for his junior season after returning last year from a serious knee injury suffered in WVU’s triumphant Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. He looked strong in the spring game and should be back to form this season. Here’s a look at five running backs WVU will count on this season to ease the quarterback transition, keep the offense on track, and build even greater depth.
1. Charles Sims- A red-shirt senior from Houston, TX., Sims ran for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns last season for the Houston Cougars. He was named to the All-Conference USA second team and finished with 37 receptions for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He was third in rushing yards in Conference USA and second in all-purpose yards. Sims transferred to WVU in July for his final year of eligibility. He’s already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Health. At 213 pounds and standing 6-feet tall, Sims will provide WVU with a nice balance of speed and power out of the backfield. He’s more of an all-purpose back that will play in the slot and catch swing passes out of the backfield. WVU is really getting the full package with Sims and I look for Holgorsen to use him in a variety of ways. He’s been named the Big 12 preseason new comer of the year by the media and I expect him to get plenty of touches as WVU might have to rely on their running game a good bit this season, depending upon just how suspect the quarterback play is.
2. Andrew Buie- A 5-9, 210 pound junior out of Jacksonville, Fla., Buie ran for 851 yards last season and averaged 65 yards-per-game. He finished 9th in the Big 12 in rushing and was named the Big 12′s offensive player of the week after rushing for a career best 207 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns in the victory over Texas. He finished the game with 281 all-purpose yards including three catches that went for 66 yards. I look for Buie to get plenty of touches. He’s not necessarily an every down back like Sims, but he’s at his best when WVU uses him out of the backfield on 3rd down swing passes. He has a knack for making defenders miss in the open field, much like he did over and over again against Texas last year. His speed is more straight ahead than lateral quickness, but he’s still a rather slippery scat-back. I think with so many options at running back it’s going to be hard for Buie to top the one-thousand yard mark, but I expect a similar rushing total to last season for Buie as Holgorsen will try to spread the ball around as he always does. I’d look for Buie’s all-purpose yardage stats to make a jump upward because he can be used in a variety of ways and his experience will be vital for the offense this season.
3. Dreamius Smith-A 5-11, 217 pound junior college transfer out of Butler Community College (Kan.), Smith is more of a big physical back, but does have plenty of agility to make defenders miss when needed. He played two seasons at Butler CC and will have two more to play at WVU. Smith enrolled at WVU in January and played in the spring game, which gave him plenty of time to learn the offense and get acclimated to WVU’s system. He finished his final season of junior college ball with 984 yards on 120 carries and 17 touchdowns. Smith averaged 89.5 rushing yards-per-game and 8.2 yards-per-carry. He did have 16 receptions for 179 yards, so he can catch some passes out of the backfield as well. I’m looking for Smith to really add some solid depth and take a good many hand-offs this season. He’s a very talented back blessed with power and speed. There’s no reason he can’t have a a really successful season depending upon how many carries he actually gets. There should be plenty of them to go around though, so Smith can really have a positive affect on WVU’s rushing attack this season, especially in short yardage situations.
4. Dustin Garrison-A 5-8, 182 pound junior out of Pearland, TX., Garrison has made a full recovery from his knee injury sustained in the Orange Bowl game. He will look to rebound this season and is finally back in the groove at full strength. Garrison looked great while playing in the spring game, as he made some solid looking cuts and broke a couple big runs against the defense. He finished last season with 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and also had nine catches for 43 yards. Garrison didn’t play last season until the third game of the year against Maryland. Coming off the knee injury really sunk him further down on the depth chart when last season began. It’s not always easy coming back from an ACL injury, but Garrison seems to be back at full strength and I look for him to have a nice bounce back season. I’m not sure how many carries he’ll be able to get with so many backs competing for playing time, but he can be used in a variety of ways, which should help his chances of returning to form.
5. Wendell Smallwood- A true freshman out of Wilmington, Del., Smallwood averaged more than eight yards-per-carry during his senior season at Eastern Christian Academy. During his junior campaign he ran for 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns at Red Lion Christian Academy. He enrolled at WVU this spring to get a jump start and played in the spring game. I liked what I saw from Smallwood when I checked out the spring action and he’ll definitely add some nice depth. He could really have a nice freshman campaign this year if he gets some touches, but with so many backs vying for carries, only time will tell what kind of impact Smallwood can have on WVU this season. He’s 5-11, 196 pounds and is enrolled in general studies.
Last season the mountaineers struggled with depth issues at running back, but this year should be quite different. Depth is everywhere in the backfield and WVU will certainly need it as they will be rebuilding along the offensive line. I’m expecting the running backs to be more of a focal point than usual in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison have combined for 1,972 yards and 16 touchdowns in their careers, so WVU will be relying on them and newly added transfer Charles Sims for experience and stability going forward.