Mountaineers deep at running back
DALLAS - Dana Holgorsen repeated a refrain he's been singing since the spring this week at the Big 12's annual football media days. It's not all that revelatory or enlightening, but instead fairly obvious.
"Probably the biggest difference going into this year as opposed to last year is everything that we dealt with last year is pretty much the opposite this year,'' Holgorsen said, referring to a loaded offense and inexperienced defense last year and the reverse this. "We had a lot of good things [in 2012] coming off a big bowl game and had some star power on offense and a very inexperienced defense. It's the exact opposite going into this year.''
Don't for a moment, however, construe that as meaning Holgorsen is concerned about deficiencies on offense.
"Oh, I wouldn't consider them deficiencies,'' Holgorsen said. "We haven't taken a snap yet. Who knows? We might be pretty good on offense. I think we've got to wait and see.''
If the Mountaineers are going to be pretty good on offense, though, it's going to have to be with a vastly different set of playmakers from a year ago. Gone to the NFL are quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, as well as the middle of the offensive line.
In their place will be a new quarterback chosen from among Florida State junior transfer Clint Trickett, two-year junior back-up Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress; a group of wide receivers culled primarily from junior college and freshman newcomers; and an offensive line that might also feature junior college players.
One of the most intriguing positions, though, is running back, where Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison - the leading rushers the past two years - were already bolstered in the spring by the addition of bruising Dreamius Smith from junior college and early enrollee Wendell Smallwood from high school.
And now throw in Houston transfer Charles Sims, who was on campus about 10 minutes before he was named as a candidate for the Maxwell Award as the country's top player.
Holgorsen finally was available to talk this week about Sims, who played for Holgorsen when the coach was the offensive coordinator at Houston during Sims' freshman year.
"We're extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,'' Holgorsen said. "He's a great kid. He's a tremendous football player. I was fortunate to be able to be involved with recruiting him when I was at Houston and I had him for the first year there in 2009. That was probably his best year statistically, his first year.''
Indeed, under Holgorsen, Sims thrived, both rushing and receiving for more than 600 yards. He redshirted the following year and then became one of the most versatile backs in the country despite nagging injuries the last two years.
"I know he's been nicked up a little bit here the last couple of years,'' said Holgorsen. "I didn't promise him anything. He knows what I'm all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. And we need some playmakers on offense after losing, I think, 90 percent of our production last year or whatever that crazy number is.
"He knew he'd be able to come in and fit in and get an opportunity to play in the Big 12. That was his motive. He loves the University of Houston. He got his degree from there. He'll be a Cougar for life. But he wanted to be able to play in the Big 12 to be able to increase his draft stock. We'll put him in position to be able to get that done.''
Just how Sims fits into the mix, though, remains to be seen. He figures to be the most well-rounded of the backs, which means Holgorsen can move him around. When asked this week if Sims might be able to play as a slot receiver sometimes, Holgorsen went a step further.
"Oh, he can play wide receiver,'' Holgorsen said.
And that's a terrific tool to have. Holgorsen loves sending players on the field that defensive coordinators can't identify as far as position. He can now send Sims on the field to play in the backfield, at slot receiver or wide receiver and Cody Clay to play fullback, tight end or slot receiver. Just with those two on the field and perhaps one of the other backs, the Mountaineers could line up in anything from an empty-backfield, five-receiver set to a full-house backfield.
"In talks with defensive coordinators, that's what they hate most,'' Holgorsen said. "They don't know.''
Even without the element of disguise, though, Holgorsen likes what he has in the backfield, which is no surprise.
"I do feel good about where we're at running back-wise,'' he said. "When you look at Dreamius Smith, one of the more sought-after running backs in the [junior college] ranks last year, he was with us in spring practice. We talked about Charles. Dustin Garrison was a full-time starter as a true freshman and Andrew Buie was a guy that had 200 yards against Texas last year. So we've got capable guys, as deep there as we've ever been, that's for certain.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.