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Is Buie back for more?

LUBBOCK, Texas - In West Virginia's first two Big 12 games, the Mountaineers' top running back has averaged 28 carries.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. Or who it was supposed to be.

West Virginia was supposed to rely on a stable of running backs. If anyone would be a workhorse it would be the one built like it - 5-foot-11, 238-pound Shawne Alston. Andrew Buie would fill in where needed and provide a pass-catching threat. Dustin Garrison would work his way back from knee surgery and eventually lend depth.

But with Alston on the shelf the last three weeks with a thigh bruise and Garrison still working his way back, Buie has become the man. And he's carried the ball like one.

In a 70-63 win over Baylor he carried 25 times and gained 82 yards. Then last week at Texas he was handed it 31 times and gained a game-changing 207 yards.

If No. 5 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) is to win at Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) today (3:30 p.m. kickoff, ABC), he might have to do the same again.

Can he?

"Well, it looks like it to me,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The concern is the wear and tear.''

West Virginia has been here before, facing a shortage of running backs. Last season the Mountaineers began the season with five and every one of them either wore out or was injured at some point or, in the case of one (Vernard Roberts) left the team.

Holgorsen worried about that at the beginning of this season, too, after he lost both of the freshmen he recruited (one to academics, the other left school) and had Garrison returning from reconstructive knee surgery. That left him with only Alston and Buie. With Alston out, Buie is carrying an immense load.

"It's unrealistic to think that if you run the ball 31 times you're not going to get dinged up,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "Sure, we'd like to reduce his load, but [against Texas] he was playing so well and wanted to keep playing. What are you going to do?''

Today figures to be another Buie day, with only Garrison to really help out. Alston didn't practice at the beginning of the week and although he made the trip here - unlike last week's to Austin - he doesn't seem likely to get a ton of work, if he gets on the field at all.

So again Buie will be front and center, and in a way that's probably a good thing. He might be the most versatile of all the backs in terms of blocking and receiving, as well as running the ball, and that's a valuable weapon to have.

If he can stay healthy.

"As I've mentioned a hundred times, the wear and tear is a little different on running backs than quarterback or a receiver or a corner or a safety that doesn't take that [a hit] every time,'' Holgorsen said. "He carried it 31 times and he got hit 31 times. He blocks, which is hard, and he runs routes, which is taxing.

"The wear and tear is something to be concerned with, which is why we need to get Dustin healthy and Shawne healthy."

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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