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WVU turns to Alston, Buie to fill void at RB

MIAMI - Dana Holgorsen understands the interest regarding what he's going to do to replace Dustin Garrison in West Virginia's backfield for Wednesday night's Orange Bowl game. Or at least he doesn't sigh and roll his eyes every time he gets the question.

The Mountaineers coach, however, wants everyone to know that it isn't as if his team must replace an irreplaceable player.

This wasn't losing quarterback Geno Smith, whose backups have gathered dust most of the season, or Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey, who seem to have caught just about every meaningful pass Smith has thrown this season.

Shawne Alston, who Holgorsen said on Sunday will get the start in place of the injured Garrison, has more touchdowns (10) than anyone on the team save for Bailey (11). And as for Andrew Buie, well, sometimes memories are short.

"Let's keep in mind that throughout fall camp we thought Buie was a little bit better than Garrison. He just got hurt,'' Holgorsen said Sunday just before WVU's practice on the immaculate soccer field of Barry University. "He's a good quality player and we look forward to getting him in the lineup and see what he can do.''

First, though, Alston will get his chance. Used mostly as a short-yardage specialist throughout the season, the 5-foot-11, 221-pound junior will line up with Smith in the backfield and the game plan won't change, Holgorsen insisted, because of any difference in running styles between Alston and the smaller true freshmen, Garrison and Buie.

"No, and that's been something I've stuck with since the very beginning,'' Holgorsen said. "I don't care who they are. We're not going to change our offense due to the fact that one guy weighs more than the other guy. It's about going forward with the football.''

Garrison injured a knee during a Friday practice here and will require major surgery that's expected to sideline him until next season. And he wasn't even hit.

"There was no contact whatsoever,'' Holgorsen said. "He just planted wrong and it's one of those deals that happen.

"Everybody across the country loses guys. You've just got to replace them. It's the same thing we're doing at safety. We lost a great player in Terence Garvin. And we've had other guys that have stepped up. Not having a guy like Dustin is tough, but I can't wait to throw Buie in there and watch him make some plays.''

Both Alston and Buie have had injury absences this season. Alston missed the first two games while still recovering from a neck injury he suffered at the end of last season in a car accident. His best game was a 14-carry, 110-yard performance in a snowstorm at Rutgers.

Buie and the now-departed Vernard Roberts each started two of the team's first four games before Garrison got the call in the fifth game and exploded for 291 yards, the best rushing performance in college football this season. Buie missed that game and the one the week before against LSU because of a shoulder injury, and by the time he returned Garrison had established himself. Buie carried just 12 times the rest of the season after gaining 88 yards on 26 carries before he was hurt.

But Buie maintains he never lost his preparedness.

"[Running backs] Coach [Robert] Gillespie has always done a pretty good job of getting all of us reps in practice so if something like that happens, we'll be ready,'' Buie said Sunday. "I tried to stay as prepared as I could all season. It's not like I'm just being thrown in there.''

Buie also had a minor fumbling issue early in the season. In fact, he dropped the ball on a nice carry he made at Maryland that ended when he was blasted by a tackler and was injured. But Holgorsen doesn't seem overly concerned about ball security.

"Dustin put it on the ground once or twice, too,'' Holgorsen said. "That's been something that we've focused on all week, and it looks to me like he's doing a good job of that.

"But again, Shawne is the starter. Shawne is mature and Shawne's done a good job throughout the course of the year on not only ball security, but moving the ball forward. So we'll go with him and give it to him a bunch and then I look for Buie to come in and do some good things in there as well.''

All in all, Garrison's explosiveness and quickness will be missed, but the fact of the matter is the Mountaineers gain far more yardage throwing the ball (4,102 yards this season) than running it (1,413). And those who will replace Garrison are not untested.

"Shawne Alston gives us a lot of maturity, as he has all year, and Andrew Buie is as healthy as he's been since probably camp,'' Holgorsen said. "We'll start Shawne because he's been playing all year and he's done a good job. And Buie's a guy who played a lot early and has been hurt. Between the two, we can do everything that we want to do.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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