Alston Breaks Through

MORGANTOWN – It was a double dose of the unusual: Wet snow caking the field at Rutgers, and West Virginia’s Shawne Alston piling up the yards on the ground.

Alston had been plodding along in No. 24 West Virginia’s pass-happy offense until last week, when he ran for a career-high 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 victory against the Scarlet Knights.

Without his straight-ahead running, West Virginia’s offense might have floundered. Relying on the passing game alone to mount a comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit in a snowstorm didn’t seem like an option.

“I’ve been waiting for a day like that for a while,” Alston said. “I was just waiting for one of those breakout days and it just came on a day when my team needed it. That just made it all better.”

Alston entered the game with only 137 yards all season, but coach Dana Holgorsen had no trouble turning to the 220-pound junior.

“I think the conditions set him up,” Holgorsen said. “Where it slowed everyone down, it sped him up for whatever reason. He is a tough kid and you know you’re able to hand it to him, and he’s able to grind it out and become kind of a power back. It was his best game by far.”

Before last week Alston may have been best remembered outside of West Virginia circles for posting a comment to his Facebook page during halftime of last season’s Champs Sports Bowl.

In January, the native of Hampton, Va., suffered a neck injury when his vehicle was rear-ended by a drunken driver while he was home on Christmas break.

Alston missed several weeks of preseason practice and the first two games, while three freshmen ended up getting the rushing load in the first month of the season.

Needled by teammates for his lack of speed compared to the freshmen, Alston’s carries have traditionally come in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Against Rutgers, his 14 carries were a season high.

“You’ve got to have guys that can do multiple things, and you know Shawne is definitely that guy,” said West Virginia running backs coach Robert Gillespie. “He can come in and do a lot of things for us other than just running the ball. Those smaller guys aren’t able to do some of the things he can do right now.”

Alston’s day didn’t stop with first-half TD runs of 52 and 2 yards.

In the third quarter, he recovered a fumble by quarterback Geno Smith and later got a third-down conversion to keep alive one touchdown drive, and he ran for 25 yards on West Virginia’s go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth.

Alston’s efforts helped balance out West Virginia’s offense. The Mountaineers compiled 210 yards on the ground and 218 through the air.

“To have a guy like that with some maturity, he was able to run hard and fall forward and he just had a really good game,” Gillespie said. “So hopefully he can build off that. Hopefully the other young guys can build some confidence off of that also.”

West Virginia (6-2, 2-1 Big East) doesn’t plan to give Alston a promotion when it meets Louisville (4-4, 2-1) on Saturday in Morgantown. Freshman Dustin Garrison will get his fifth start with Alston being used at length in both running and blocking situations.

And that’s just fine with Alston.

“It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you get,” he said. “As long as you take advantage of them, more will come.”

Louisville is preparing for more.

“We need to be aware of where he is,” said Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. “We have to react to him once the ball gets into his hands.”