MORGANTOWN - Before Saturday's Maryland-WVU game, all the buzz was about the Mountaineers' gray uniforms and helmets. Did Maryland, of all teams, really look sharper than WVU?
The bet from here is Joan and Melissa Rivers would have absolutely killed the unis on the red carpet.
After the Mountaineers' 31-21 win over the Terrapins before a crowd of 58,504, however, there were answers.
First, all in attendance found out exactly how important injured tailback Shawne Alston is to the high-flying WVU offense. And we now know why the Mountaineer coaches already have four running back commitments for next season.
Yes, Maryland has fine players on the defense, including returning second-team All-America tackle Joe Vellano, who had six tackles Saturday. The team entered the game eighth nationally in total defense.
Still, WVU was a different team on Saturday. It was a limited team. It was a team without a bruising runner to pound the ball and set up the pass.
"Shawne has a thigh bruise," said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "He was limited this week and I didn't feel it was the right thing to do to play him."
WVU still won, of course. But it didn't exactly look the part of a Top 10 team. Quarterback Geno Smith, the Heisman Trophy leader last week according to a straw poll and numerous pundits, was off a bit. Yet the loss of Alston, a 5-foot-11, 236-pound senior, was glaring.
In the previous games against Marshall and James Madison, WVU was averaging 226 rushing yards. The Mountaineers were No. 25 nationally in rushing offense.
Without Alston, West Virginia finished with but 25 rushing yards. Andrew Buie, a heretofore counterpunch to Alston's punch, had 33 net yards with a long of eight. Dustin Garrison's possible redshirt was torn off for two carries for one yard.
"My hat's off to Maryland," said WVU running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "But we need every piece of the puzzle to make us the strongest. When we don't have that, others have to step up."
But Alston, that missing piece, isn't one along the edge of the puzzle. He's squarely in the middle, along with Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.