It's All Downhill From Here

The WVU football team's shift towards a slightly more power-oriented rushing attack in recent weeks has been the result of a combination of multiple factors, according to the team's running backs coach.

After seeing things on film that made the West Virginia coaching staff believe some opponents would be more susceptible to a downhill rushing scheme, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and company began to try to further utilize the power attack.

"I think coach just wanted to try to get downhill a little bit more, so we tried to do a bit of a change-up," said Mountaineer running backs coach Chris Beatty. "We've had it in. We just hadn't had to use it."

"I think it's something that can help us shorten the game and get downhill and provide a bit of a change-up from Noel. That's why we've gone to it a bit more. It's been pretty successful."

Indeed, the power game -- particularly with the use of fullback Ryan Clarke -- has worked well for WVU in recent weeks. Clarke has gained 180 yards on 43 attempts on the season -- a sterling 4.2 yards per carry average for a player who takes essentially every handoff into the meat of the opposing defense.

That has helped the team in short-yardage situations (one of the most glaring deficiencies of the 2008 Mountaineers) and has even turned into an occasional big play, as evidenced by Clarke's 37-yard touchdown run against Cincinnati.

"Ryan is a different type of back and he gives you a bigger guy that can run through some arm tackles," Beatty said. "The line has done a great job of (downhill blocking). We practiced the heck out of it all spring and it was something we made a point of emphasis of."

"Coach has done a great job of coming up with some schemes to get some numbers and get some angles to attack downhill that we didn't do last year. (The success in the power game) is a combination probably of all those."

Ryan Clarke

While head coach Bill Stewart has said that the Mountaineers needed to make a shift to using Clarke more because of durability issues with Noel Devine, Beatty said that the staff has no reservations with handing the speedier (but smaller) back the ball 25 times a game.

"If we had to give it to him 25 times and that was what was going to help us win, we would do that," Beatty said. "But at the same time, he is a smaller guy and is coming off some injuries. As the season goes along, it wears on you a little bit as a smaller guy trying to run between the tackles."

"We do some things to try to alleviate that. Ryan can do that, Jock (Sanders) can do that and Mark Rodgers can do that a little bit too. It's not been really a concerted effort (to give Noel fewer carries) It's just taking what the other guys give us."

Instead, the second-year running backs coach said that part of the reason Devine may be seeing fewer reps in games is because of what opposing defenses have opted to do to slow him down in games.

"We run a lot of read stuff with him, so sometimes the defense dictates how many carries he gets by how they play the read stuff," Beatty said. "I don't think it's necessarily a pre-meditated deal."

Freshman running back Shawne Alston may be a bit of an in-between player -- capable of having greater speed than Clarke and capable of running with more power than Devine.

Alston impressed during his time on the field in mop-up duty in the team's win at Syracuse. Still, he is young and his time to be a feature back has not quite arrived, even though his position coach said he has done well in practice.

"Every week he's got a couple plays in the package for him," Beatty said of Alston. "We just haven't gotten to them. When you get success with one big back, it kind of makes it to where you don't need to go with another one."

"He's gotten better every week. He comes to practice and comes to get better. Not everybody does that when they're not noticeably in the game all the time. He's worked hard all year and he's going to be a good player for us in the future."

For now, that means Clarke is going to continue to be the player to receive the bulk of the carries when West Virginia opts to rush with power.

"We do run a lot of east and west stuff with Noel back there," Beatty said. "This gives us a chance to get downhill. We've had some packages in for (Clarke) for awhile. We've just kind of expanded on them a bit the past couple weeks."

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