As you know, WVU has all those running backs and we’ve wondered before, “What will the Mountaineers do with all those bodies and all that talent?” We’re starting to get some answers. Rushel Shell and Dustin Garrison have been really good so far and both have made great gains in the passing game, both as receivers and, more importantly, as blockers. Wendell Smallwood remains on track to do Charles Sims stuff, though in a smaller overall role.
Dreamius Smith has been purposefully limited because he got a knee scoped weeks ago and, unfortunately for him, Andrew Buie has been Andrew Buie.
Overall, though, that’s a lot of carries for five guys who won’t redshirt. Absent from Dana Holgorsen’s two-player list of freshmen who won’t redshirt was Dontae Thomas-Williams, but a final decision has not yet been made about a player JaJuan Seider really likes for the same reason the running backs coach really likes freshman quarterback William Crest.
“He’s coming along,” running backs coach JaJuan Seider said. “There’s no pressure on him to go out there and get reps every day. He’s learning, and the good thing about him is he’s not making the same mistakes he did the day before. That’s what I see.
“The thing I like most about Dontae is he cares. You see him and William Crest, you’re talking about kids who care, who want to be good, who sometimes you’ve got to pick up because there are times they get down on themselves when they make a mistake. That doesn’t bother me at all. That’s passion. That’s a kid who wants to get better.”
The Mountaineers are still holding a full hand — I know, that’s six cards … leave me alone — and have excelled at different times running and blocking for inside zone, outside zone and power plays. They’re surely capable of doing all three this season and probably some of this read-option stuff, as well.
When you’ve got that array of backs and a very strong and agile offensive line, why not do what you can do, even if what you can do is a long list?
Still, it’s hard to think of Holgorsen, the guy who arrived well reputed and with such bravado so many years ago, not running the thing that stirred up those opinions. Remember the diamond formation he invented? It never went away, I guess, but you get a feeling it’s coming back in a big way this season.
You see it and think about it and you come to believe it’s a great way to take advantage of talented tailbacks. That’s true. But it also liberates your wide receivers, and WVU does indeed like Mario Alford and Kevin White and gets excited about what those two can do in single coverage.
The diamond makes a defense pick. Single the outside guys and commit a safety to the box to defend the run or cover the receivers and take players out of the box, which leaves open the odd angles and gaps afforded by the three-player backfield.
The diamond is typically one running back and two fullback/tight end types, but it can also take two running back sets and add the big back to create a diamond and do the same things the two running back sets can do.
Hear the tales about Shell, Smallwood, Smith and Garrison and you can’t help but think about three running backs, especially if one down is a traditions two running back set with Shell and Smith in the backfield and Smallwood in the slot and the next down has all three in the diamond.
Slow down, just a little.
“Most of the time we have two fullbacks and a tailback, but right now we’re actually doing some more with two tailbacks in there, just because it keeps the defense guessing,” Garrison said. “If you have two fullbacks in there, (defenders) know where the ball is going. When you have two (running backs), it’s, ‘Who gets it? Which way is it going?’ It’s more confusing when you have two or three tailbacks and any one of them can carry the ball.”
It’ll be a lot of 1-and-2 or 2-and-1 looks, but there’s a possibility WVU can still preserve and prevent some of the deception Garrison described. Eli Wellman (he’s No. 28 in the video up top) is getting Owen Schmitt comparisons and it sounds as though he’s going to be a running option in some capacity.
He said Wellman, who ran for 1,676 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior at Spring Valley High School, was used as a tailback in practice last weekend.
“He looked good doing it,” Holgorsen said. “He’s going to be able to do that. He’s not just a meathead fullback/tight end guy who doesn’t have skills. Cody and Garrett have developed their receiving skills. I don’t think I can say that about Eli at this point, but those guys have developed tight end receiving skills to where I think they’re going to be a viable option to throw them the ball down the field. Eli’s a little different. He’s more of a skilled back.”