WVU’s Andrew Buie had his career-long 31-yard run in a 48-45 win at Texas. Otherwise, breakaway runs have been a rarity for the sophomore. (Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE)
As West Virginia’s running game bogged down during the previous month, the mind kept replenishing itself with memories of that epic night in Austin, Texas, when sophomore Andrew Buie skated through the Longhorns defense for 207 yards and peeled off four runs of 20-plus.
Four losses later, Buie has yet to produce another 20-yarder.
His drought of explosive runs factors hugely into WVU’s recent downturn — the offense averaging only 2.8 yards per carry since leaving Darrell Royal Stadium. And as the sample size expands on Buie, coaches seem to be realizing an inconvenient truth about the former four-star prospect: His breakaway speed doesn’t equate to breakaway runs.
“He does some good things, but what he just hasn’t done is give us the long runs,” said Mountaineers running backs coach Robert Gillespie. “He does a good job of getting the 4-yard runs, the 6-yard runs, but just hasn’t had the make-you-miss that you want in a running game.”
“As a staff we want more, and he wants more also.”
Buie, after beginning the season as a backup, assumed a heavier workload in Week 3 when a deep-tissue thigh bruise decommissioned senior Shawne Alston. In running for 646 yards this season, Buie has been more dependable than dynamic, disappointing those who anticipated he might represent the next Zeroué, Cobourne or Devine. In practically the same breath Tuesday night, Gillespie praised Buie’s heartiness (“He’s played over 500 snaps and the next-closest guy has about 130.”) but downplayed his productivity of 4.6 yards per carry (“That’s middle-of-the-pack in this conference.”)
As much as fans harken back to Buie gashing Texas in a 48-45 win, they mustn’t forget the Longhorns rank only 98th nationally in rushing defense (UT climbed back into the top 100 just this week). Outside of that promising performance, Buie has only one run of more than 20 yards all season, giving him a total of five “explosive” runs in 170 carries (and a career-long run of 31 yards, also against Texas).
His inability to make safeties miss is the thing that stands out, and “that’s what you have to do,” Gillespie said. “Everybody we’ve played, their leading tackler is their safety. In this conference you play Cover 4, and those safeties read run first and they bail.”
“The good (tailbacks) take the 6- or 7-yard runs, and the great ones turn it into 60 or 70. I think I have some good backs, but I have to go out and get some better guys, guys who can make those moves.”
— WVU running backs coach Robert Gillespie
With Alston still ailing and Dustin Garrison yet to regain the zip he showed before last December’s ACL surgery, West Virginia’s depth at running back has thinned for the second straight season. With an eye toward recruiting, head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday his staff is aiming to sign “about five or six running backs who can come in here and give us help.”
And speed isn’t the lone criteria. Gillespie, himself a four-year regular in the Florida Gators’ backfield from 1998-2001, said prospects must possess “something you can’t coach” — referring to the shiftiness and vision that leads to game-breaking runs.
“You can work on drills and show film and talk about it … but there isn’t a drill to teach Barry Sanders to do what he did,” Gillespie said. “You could either be good or great. The good ones take the 6- or 7-yard runs, and the great ones turn it into 60 or 70.
“I think I have some good backs, but I have to go out and get some better guys, guys who can make those moves.”
Buie, who split time at quarterback while starring at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., thinks he can develop more second-level elusiveness “once I have a good concept of where guys are coming from and what angle they’re taking.” More reps and more experience, Buie contends, will help him learn to instinctively counter hard-charging defensive backs.
“Hopefully I can mature as a player,” he said, “and I can be the guy that makes those bigger plays.”
Buie blamed himself for botching the exchange on West Virginia’s second play at Oklahoma State. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson described it as “a simple inside zone run” that went awry: Geno Smith was dropped for a 2-yard loss after failing to reach Buie on the handoff.
“I just got wide,” Buie said. “I saw the line slant down inside, and I knew that I was going to have bounce it, and my body just naturally started widening before I got the ball. I let what my eyes saw dictate the whole thing. I have to be more disciplined and stick to my fundamentals.”
And what about the third-quarter collision when Buie took the handoff from Smith only to be tripped down by his quarterback?
“Just one of them accidents that showed up at the wrong time in the wrong place,” he said.
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