Beware Holgorsen offenses with elite backs

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
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No one knows what kind of player Rushel Shell ultimately will become, but we do know what colors he'll wear for the foreseeable future.

That would be the Old Gold and Blue:
Shell visited West Virginia on Monday and chose the Mountaineers over Kentucky. He must sit out the 2013 season at West Virginia and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

"Things went really well down at WVU," Shell said. "I enjoyed every moment of it. We toured the campus and facilities, and I got a chance to hang out with other recruits and players on the team.

"They made my visit terrific and made me feel like family."

First things first: That's cold-blooded. Shell first planned on transferring to UCLA, but changed his mind and hoped to return to Pitt. Coach Paul Chryst said that wouldn't be happening.

Now, Shell elects to transfer to a longtime Pitt rival. Staying close to his two daughters was a factor, and the two programs don't meet in the Backyard Brawl anymore. Still, imagine if Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham packed his bags and transferred to Kansas, or if Texas A&M running back Trey Williams reversed field and decided to become a Longhorn.

[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Rushel Shell has announced he will transfer from Pitt to West Virginia. History suggests the running back could thrive in coach Dana Holgorsen's offense.
Shell rushed for more than 9,000 yards and finished his high school career as Pennsylvania's all-time rushing leader. He was the No. 3 running back and No. 26 recruit overall in the 2012 class, and made an immediate impact as Pitt's second-leading rusher with 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman.

As I mentioned earlier, we don't know what kind of back Shell will become. But the 6-foot, 215-pounder has the potential to become one of the game's best and to continue his career in the NFL.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will get his hands on him in 2014 -- and when that happens, defenses could suffer. Since Holgorsen moved to Houston to become a playcaller in 2008, he's had only two seasons with truly great backs. In those two seasons the results were outstanding.

In 2009, Houston's Charles Sims racked up 1,457 yards of offense and 10 touchdowns on 202 touches, and the Cougars led the nation in total offense. Sims is back in a Holgorsen offense this season after transferring to West Virginia, never quite reaching the heights he did during his freshman season.

"That was probably his best year statistically," Holgorsen said at last week's media days.

After leaving Houston, Holgorsen had a chance to take the reins of an Oklahoma State offense with future San Francisco 49er Kendall Hunter on the roster. Hunter rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010 while Oklahoma State rose from 70th in total offense to third with Holgorsen calling the plays.

West Virginia has already seen its offense spike under Holgorsen, and he has the talent in place for a solid run in the next few years. Holgorsen has a reputation as a coach who loves to air it out -- and he does -- but when he has big talents in the backfield, they don't go ignored and the offense's balance makes it tougher for defenses to lock down.

Sims will get a chance to see that in action now. But in the next three years, it's a safe bet that Shell will get an opportunity to make a lot of noise in what could be a promising career.

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