MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For all the questions proffered about the pecking order of West Virginia’s running backs, JaJuan Seider suggests the media could find its own answers by looking at this weekend’s season-opening opponent.
“Alabama goes through the same thing with their (running backs) rotation, and nobody questions when this guy’s going to play or when that guy’s going to play,” said Seider. “It always works itself out.”
West Virginia’s situation worked itself out last year with Charles Sims earning the majority of the carries and catches, but the unit looks deeper and more intricately adjustable this season.
Senior Dreamius Smith is a 220-pound boom-and-burst mixture from whom coaches would like to see more boom. Sophomore transfer Rushel Shell has shown more willingness to run behind his pads and over defenders. Sophomore Wendell Smallwood has a leaner, more classic tailback’s build and an ability to snatch passes downfield.
Beyond that group are slithery scatbacks Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison—juniors who seem relegated to plug-in scenarios despite each having a 200-yard rushing performance to his credit.
How does Seider plan to maximize such a deep and diverse group?
“I’ve got a good idea how the rotation is going to be,” he said Tuesday night, “and I feel like I’ve got a bunch of quality guys who can start.”
Maybe even talented enough to start for a program like the Crimson Tide, whose unit of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake is the envy of the nation. As Saturday’s showdown at the Georgia Dome approaches, Seider senses his running backs ramping up the competition and feeling slighted.
“These guys can go play for Alabama. They can play in the SEC,” Seider said. “They know what’s being said about the Alabama backs, and these guys feel pretty good about themselves. They think they’re damn good themselves.
“All I tell my guys is that at the end of the day, they’re going to be talking about a running back group—just make sure they’re talking about our group.”
To that end, however, the coach doesn’t want confidence distilling into desperation—particularly with the likelihood of ballcarriers subbing from series to series or even snap to snap. Seider’s advice before his guys face what has recently been one of the nation’s nastiest rushing defenses:
“Be OK with 4-yard gains, and continue to get 4-yard gains. We hand the ball off to you three times in a row, that’s 12 yards. When opportunity comes for that big play. make it, but don’t press.”
Even as West Virginia wants its offense to channel the explosive frequency of 2012, there’s the immediate reality check of Alabama’s defense, stocked with heavily courted recruits being coached up within the Nick Saban/Kirby Smart system.
In countering, West Virginia’s running backs must be stellar Saturday, from playing fumble-free to making blitz pickups in pass-protection. Seider said his group should be fresh, focused and able to execute in all situations.
“You ain’t starting over with a rookie and worried about if he’s going to make a mistake and if he know what he’s doing,” Seider said. “Every kid in that room has reps under their belt. That’s why the comfort level allows me to play whomever I feel.”