WVU running backs impressive in spring game

MORGANTOWN-The West Virginia assistant wearing the biggest smile on his face following Saturday’s annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage was running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider.

Why not?

His stable of running backs had just rushed for 175 yards on 42 carries and did not put the ball on the ground once as the Gold (offense) defeated the Blue (defense) by a 37-27 margin in the Mountaineers’ final practice of the spring.

“I thought all of our guys ran hard,” Seider said. “We didn’t have a lot of long runs, but the guys were able to grind it out, look for their openings and move the chains.”

All without the services of junior college transfer Dreamius Smith, who missed the game after sustaining a hard hit in WVU’s road practice at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field the week before. Smith is the team’s leading returning rusher, having gained 494 yards and scored five touchdowns on 103 attempts in his first season in Morgantown.

“They have all had a pretty good spring,” continued Seider. “Dreamius could have played, but we decided it really wasn’t necessary and it gave us a chance to give the others some solid playing time.”

Making the most of Smith’s absence were Dustin Garrison and Wendell Smallwood.

Garrison, who led the team in rushing as a freshman with 742 yards and six touchdowns on 136 carries, finished with 47 yards on 10 attempts while Smallwood finished with the same number of carries, but two fewer yards (45).

Making his WVU spring game debut was University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell. The redshirt sophomore showed a combination of power and speed in rushing for 37 yards on only eight carries.

Rounding out the quartet of rushers was redshirt senior quarterback Logan Moore. The Fairmont State transfer had the biggest run of the day-28 yards-and finished with 35 yards on only three carries.

The fact that Moore is a quarterback added more fuel to the fire that fourth-year head coach Dana Holgorsen will look to have his signal-callers run the ball more in order to offset some of the things opposing defenses are doing to slow down his ‘Air Raid’ attack.

“I thought it (letting the quarterbacks get hit) was fun,” said Holgorsen.

“It was fun watching those guys get hit. They weren’t making the progress we wanted, and about six practices ago, we let them get hit and the sense of urgency picked up.

“It’s really been good for our defense to see a lot, I mean how many teams do we face that are going to run their quarterbacks a lot? It’s good for our defense to see it and their production picked up. I was pleased with their performance this last six practices.”

Pleased, but not prepared to name a starter at the position.

“We’re no where close to naming a starter at quarterback,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said following WVU’s practice in Charleston. “Clint (Trickett) will be back when we start in August and he will be in the mix and (incoming freshman) William Crest will also bring some things to the table.

“Obviously, we’d like to settle on a starter as soon as possible, but that isn’t the case right now. We are going to have to see how they continue to improve during the summer and the first couple of weeks of camp before we decide.”

Three of the six possible signal-callers were in action on Saturday with senior Paul Millard completing 14-of-19 attempts for 129 yards and two touchdowns while junior college transfer Skylar Howard made good on 9-of-13 passing for 70 yards and one score. In addition to his running, Moore connected on 10-of-21 passes for 109 yards.

Redshirt freshman Gregory McPherson did not see action in Saturday’s game while Trickett is still recovering from shoulder surgery and Crest is expected to be on campus in June.

West Virginia, which is coming off of a 4-8 season in 2013, opens the 2014 campaign against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30.