When will Clarke's time come again?
LANDOVER, Md. - Could this be the day?
After all, it's been nearly 22 months since it last happened, and Dana Holgorsen keeps talking as if the drought will eventually end. But until it does, there will remain a bit of mystery.
Will Ryan Clarke ever carry the ball again?
"Hey, if it's a part of the game plan, you'll see it,'' Clarke said this week. "I'm ready. If they give me the ball, I'll be ready.''
When Clarke last carried the ball, so many things were different. It was the last game of the 2010 regular season, a home game against Rutgers. Bill Stewart was the head coach and Dana Holgorsen was still just a rumor. The Mountaineers pounded the Scarlet Knights that afternoon, winning 35-14.
Clarke was instrumental in the win. He carried the ball seven times and gained just 11 yards, but yards weren't his objective. Touchdowns were. He scored three of them that day, including a 3-yard run to make the score 35-7 with 41/2 minutes to play.
That was Dec. 4, 2010, and he hasn't carried it in a game since. He didn't touch the ball in a loss to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl three weeks later, nor during the entire 2011 season.
Now, though, as West Virginia prepares to face James Madison today at FedEx Field, Clarke might be back in the equation.
Then again, he might not be there.
"Maybe,'' Holgorsen said this week. "You never know.''
Clarke hasn't carried in nearly two years because of some of the things that used to happen when he did have the ball, namely dropping it. Four weeks before that Rutgers game, Clarke fumbled on first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in overtime at Connecticut, perhaps costing the Mountaineers a BCS bowl berth that would eventually go to UConn.
He fumbled again a few times the following spring when Holgorsen had taken over as the offensive coordinator and lost the trust of a new set of offensive coaches. So after carrying 140 times and scoring 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons, he never touched the ball in his third, instead toiling as a blocking back.
Now, though, West Virginia's running back situation is a bit precarious. The Mountaineers are fine with Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie as the two primary ball carriers, and the 236-pound Alston also fills the role as short-yardage back. But beyond that there's not much except freshman walk-on D'Vontis Arnold after WVU's two freshman running back recruits both washed out.
That could be a problem given that last season the Mountaineers began with four tailbacks and three (Alston, Buie and Dustin Garrison) spent time on the injured list and a fourth (Vernard Roberts) left the team.
"Running backs take a beating. Last year, we had five running backs and we got down to where we are now,'' Holgorsen said. "That's a position that's tough physically. It's very demanding. I'm really happy with both guys that we have back there and Ryan is probably the next guy right now.''
With Garrison still on the shelf after offseason knee surgery, Holgorsen would like to have as many running backs as he can have some experience by the time the team gets into the meat of its schedule. So if there's a chance that Clarke will be needed this season, it would be good to get him some carries as soon as possible, given his 22-month layoff.
"I take enough reps in practice to where I think it's a possibility,'' Clarke said. "But I don't know. If my number's called I'm going to be ready.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.