- David Ubben, College Football
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Tavon Austin couldn't help but make the connection.
"I felt like I was back home, back at running back like I did in high school," he said of his 344-yard outburst on just 21 carries in last week's loss.
Strong words when Oklahoma's on the other side of the ball, but Austin might have actually understated his perception. Junior high, perhaps?
Back at Dunbar High in Baltimore, Austin racked up 2,660 yards and averaged "just" 12 yards a carry his senior season. If Austin averaged what he did on Saturday night for a full season, he'd have racked up 4,128 yards and averaged better than 16 yards a carry.
Dana Holgorsen's offensive system is not complex. Modeled after Mike Leach, it's a small playbook with lots of variation in formation, all perfected by repetition. Austin's package at running back included a rousing two plays. Left. Or right. It all abided by one of Holgorsen's complex founding principles.
"Everything that we do is kind of trial and error, so if it looks good we keep doing it," Holgorsen said. "If it doesnt look so good, we quit doing it."
It's safe to say Austin at running back looked very, very good. When Holgorsen looked at Oklahoma's safeties, he saw speedy, sure tacklers. Oklahoma's scheme allowed those safeties free reign to come up and help against West Virginia's run game, which would have to be productive to keep the Sooners' pass rush at bay and allow West Virginia's passing game to produce. West Virginia running backs Andrew Buie and Shawne Alston might have to take a seat.
"We felt like we needed to get somebody with a little bit more talent with the ball in their hands to be able to make those guys miss," Holgorsen said, "and (Austin's) very successful at that."
Oklahoma might agree, and later today, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads will get a front row seat. Somebody better hope there's antacid nearby. Rhoads learned of Austin's 572-yard, all-purpose outburst after his Cyclones beat Kansas on Saturday. He got a jump on the Mountaineers and popped in the game tape.
"Then soon after that we vomited," Rhoads said.
Rhoads might catch a break this time around. The Sooners went without a linebacker for much of the game. Iowa State's strength, however, is at that position. A.J. Klein and Jake Knott's replacement, Jeremiah George, have helped carry Iowa State to a third bowl berth in four years.
"I really don’t know how it’ll go, but I think I’ll be playing more wide receiver this week, because of their defense," Austin said.
Last week, the Mountaineers employed a seldom-used package with Austin simply playing traditional running back, adding to his usual diet of jet sweeps, reverses and screens.
"(Holgorsen) kind of told me that week in practice that I was going to get a it a little bit, but I didn’t think I was going to touch it 21 times. As the game went along, he told me to just get ready, they were going to give me the ball a little bit more, and I was ready for it," Austin said. "I knew there was going to be a good chance for me to have a good game if everything went right. The linemen made a lot of holes for me. I was telling them, 'I only need a second', and that’s what they gave me, and I was able to fit through them and make a couple big plays."
Hey, if it looks good, keep on doing it. West Virginia is mired in a five-game losing streak, and Austin's efforts might be able to dig them out in Ames today against Iowa State.
"It’s upsetting to me. I’ve never lost five games in a row in my whole life. I’d never lost three games in a row in my whole life," Austin said, "but it’s one of those things where you’ve got to keep everybody’s head up, because I’m a senior and one of the leaders, and you’ve got to keep pushing and get a win one of these weekends."