Buie changing approach
MORGANTOWN - There are probably two brief moments in Andrew Buie's freshman season as a running back at West Virginia that stand out above all others. One Buie would like to forget. The other he finds hard to even explain.
The first came early in the season in a game against Maryland at College Park. Buie, who had earned the starting tailback job, found himself running up the middle in the open field against Maryland when he was absolutely crushed by a Terrapin defender and fumbled the ball away.
He would stagger through the rest of that game, carrying six more times, but then he missed the next two games with an injured shoulder and carried only 12 more times the rest of the regular season, opening the door for Dustin Garrison to shine.
The second was in the Orange Bowl, with Garrison hurt and Buie and Shawne Alston filling in. In the middle of the first quarter, with WVU trailing 7-0, Buie caught a short pass from Geno Smith and appeared to be tackled for no gain.
But he wasn't. Clemson safety Rashard Hall wrapped him up and brought him down, but Buie landed on top of Hall, bounced and rolled off and ran down the sideline to set up West Virginia's first touchdown in what would eventually be a 70-33 blowout win.
"I don't know. It just happened,'' Buie said when asked if he'd figured out that play yet. "I rolled on top of him and put my hand down and saw that I was still up. There was no whistle, so I just kept running.''
Oddly enough, though, the play in the Orange Bowl isn't the one that sticks with Buie. He claims that he hasn't even watched it since returning from Florida and going over the game tape. Some guys would have that on a continuous loop as a computer screen saver.
The hit at Maryland? Well, that one forced Buie to rethink things a bit.
"I don't think my body was a hundred percent ready to enter a college season and play the reps that I did,'' Buie said. "But [now] I've had a long time to get my body strong and get ready for the season.
"Football's a physical game. If you get hit you've got to get back up and get ready for the next play. But you definitely learn that you can't run straight up.''
As Buie prepares for his sophomore season - again battling Garrison and Alston for the job as WVU's primary running back - he's doing so with an eye toward changing the way he runs. Those aren't wholesale changes, of course, but significant little ones.
"You have to run behind your pads and use your center of gravity,'' Buie said. "You learn that [by watching] film. Last year I'd run high, not really aware of what's going on around you and take big hits. When you know what's going on around you, you can start preparing your body for a bigger shot.
"You learn that it's more than athletic ability.''
Indeed, the difference between high school and college football for a running back is significant. As a high school back in Jacksonville, Fla., Buie could use his muscle to bowl over people, even at 170 pounds. That doesn't work when defenders all are much bigger and stronger.
"You can put Buie's high school tape on and see he was a physical guy for his size,'' WVU running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "The first tape I ever saw on him was him taking an outside play and just flattening the safety.
"Once he got to this level, he had to understand that you can't always just run over guys. But he has that mentality. You can't change the kind of dog that he is. That's what makes him who he is, really. But it's our job to put some weight on him so he can run that big.''
Buie has done that, gaining nearly 20 pounds since he arrived, but he's also learned how to be a smarter runner.
"By the time he leaves here he'll probably be 200, 205 and he'll be able to run like that,'' Gillespie said. "You can't change his mentality, but you have to teach him when to do it and how to try and make guys miss.
"I tell him all the time that great backs never take direct hits. He has to learn when to get skinny, when to bend his body, what the down and distance are, what kind of run is required and what kind of finish he needs on every run. That's why we watch film every day, so he can look at those little parts of his game and get better.''
The effects of those early hits Buie took a year ago are all gone now, but the lessons learned remain.
"I can't say that you'll ever learn how to never take a big shot. You don't really dictate when a big shot is delivered on you,'' Buie said. "But I can say I've gotten better in how to read defenses and have myself more prepared [before the snap] versus just getting into the play and guessing what's going on the whole time.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1