MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's a shame that West Virginia is finding out so late what a versatile player Tavon Austin can be.
It's not that the Mountaineers didn't know it all along, of course. They used Austin in a lot of ways. That's why he'll leave after four years as one of the top all-purpose yardage producers in NCAA history.
But his play out of the backfield the past two weeks has been eye popping.
Last week's 344-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma could almost be regarded as a fluke. Oklahoma's defense was designed to give up plays in the run game in order to guard against over-the-top passes, and the Mountaineers took advantage.
But Saturday Iowa State not only played a conventional front with a seven-man box, the Cyclones at times devoted a spy to Austin. And it still didn't work.
Austin rushed for 74 yards, caught passes for 99 more, scored the game-winning touchdown and a 2-point conversion against a defense that knew where he was going to line up. He was the difference in West Virginia's 31-24 win that snapped a five-game losing streak.
His presence also helped big back Shawne Alston rush 19 times for 130 yards.
"You can't just put him in the backfield and run him up in there,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said of the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Austin. "Shawne you can do that with, but not Tavon.''
So the Mountaineers didn't. They handed him the ball 14 times, but also threw it to him six times. He lined up in the backfield and in the slot and got the ball on handoffs and jet sweep tip passes. Three of his receptions were on those plays, including the 75-yarder that won the game.
"The game plan was to give me a couple of carries [out of the backfield] and see what happened, what [the defense] did,'' Austin said.
Well, the bottom line was that the defense once again didn't stop Austin.
"He did what he's done all year,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He's a great football player and if you ask some of the best players and coaches in the [Big 12] they'll tell you the same thing. He's special and they're very fortunate to have him on their roster.''
West Virginia can look back at its failures during a five-game losing streak and point fingers at a lot of causes. There were defensive lapses - meltdowns, even - in every game, offensive inefficiency at times and specials-teams blunders.