MORGANTOWN - Whether Shawne Alston will play in West Virginia's Big 12 opener with Baylor Saturday is a question not likely to be answered until game time.
Coach Dana Holgorsen doesn't talk about injuries unless a player is definitely out, and he's not going to start with Alston's thigh bruise. Holgorsen will only say that his senior running back is "day-to-day.''
The more pertinent question, though, is how much of a factor the 5-foot-11, 236-pound Alston is in West Virginia's offense, and whether his presence is really that significant.
Holgorsen and his staff try to downplay it, but the numbers say otherwise.
"It affected us a little bit,'' Holgorsen said. "But it's also what they were giving us.''
The "they'' is Maryland, which held West Virginia to just 25 yards on 25 carries in the Mountaineers' 31-21 win last weekend. That's in stark contrast to the first two games of the season, when WVU ran for a combined 453 yards against Marshall and James Madison.
Alston played a huge role with 30 carries and 185 yards in those two games as the primary back. Andrew Buie was the main ball carrier against Maryland and gained but 33 yards on 14 carries.
It would certainly help West Virginia if the running game was more productive this week. At noon on Saturday the No. 9 Mountaineers (3-0) host No. 25 Baylor (3-0) in a game that will be televised by FX.
But before pinning the troubles in the running game on the absence of Alston and his bruising running style, it is wise to consider two other factors - depth and the style of the game.
As for the depth, with Alston out the only truly healthy and proven running back was Buie. Dustin Garrison made his first appearance of the season, but it was also his first appearance since undergoing major knee surgery in the offseason, so he can't be depended upon just yet.
"We had one back. And if we gave it to him 35 times then we probably wouldn't have him this week,'' Holgorsen said. "You've got to be careful of wearing people out.''
Perhaps more significant was the style of the game. Maryland went into it wanting to control the football and keep West Virginia's offense off the field, and for the most part the Terps did just that, dominating both time of possession and offensive plays in the first half and parts of the second.