MORGANTOWN – West Virginia might get an opportunity to unleash its running game in the second week of the season against Towson.
It happened only sparingly in the opener.
West Virginia’s depth at running back was considered the strength of the offense entering the 2014 season. But four backs managed just 58 yards on 19 carries in a 33-23 loss to Alabama.
With the second-ranked Crimson Tide clogging holes in the offensive line, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen turned to his backs for pass protection and to catch screen passes.
If Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell has his way, that could change when West Virginia (0-1) and Towson (0-1) meet on Saturday night in Morgantown.
West Virginia used a rotation of Shell, Wendell Smallwood, Dreamius Smith and Dustin Garrison against Alabama. Shell wouldn’t mind letting the home crowd see what their legs can do if the opportunity presents itself against Towson, which allowed 192 rushing yards in a 31-27 loss to Central Connecticut State last week.
“Every one of our backs in our backfield are great backs, and I feel any one of us could have a 100-yard, 200-yard game,” Shell said. “Playing at home, this is a crazy place, crazy fans, it’s definitely a game I’m looking forward to, especially at night time.”
With Trickett throwing for a career-high 365 yards against Alabama, the running backs turned into receivers, too. Smallwood caught six passes for 73 yards and Shell had a pair of catches for 19 yards.
“Those guys might be in (pass) protection, but they may be in route running as well,” Holgorsen said. “That’s why Wendell’s role is so big. He can get involved in the passing game with whatever we want him to do. Rushel is not there yet, but that’s why he’s playing as much as he is because he is able to run with authority, as we know he can. He’s able to pass protect because he’s physical.
“The surprising thing is that he can get out into the flats, catch a ball, make a guy miss, run a guy over and give you an explosive play. I think we’re all excited about seeing that.”
Shell ran for 641 yards as a freshman at Pitt in 2012 before transferring to West Virginia. His first game for the Mountaineers was a reality check. After compiling 20 yards on his first three carries on the opening drive: he had 18 yards the rest of the game.
“I felt I came out hot,” Shell said. “Then it disappeared.”
What didn’t go away was West Virginia’s energy throughout the game, which Holgorsen called an “all-time high.” He would like to see that same level again this week against a Championship Subdivision opponent.
“If we can get those guys to play with that kind of effort, with that kind of energy and with that kind of excitement, we’re going to have a good year,” he said.