Alston's Return to Health a Spark for Mountaineers - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Alston's Return to Health a Spark for Mountaineers

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MORGANTOWN -

Sometimes it helps to have your starting running back in the offensive game plan.

A week after Tavon Austin showed that he can do anything you ever consider asking him as a football player, fellow senior Shawne Alston proved again what he is capable of if he could return to full health.

The season's starter at running back has been hampered for nearly the entire fall with a deep thigh bruise that kept the majority of his impact on the sideline in a leadership role or even relegated to yelling at his television when his teammates made their first road trip in the Big 12.

On Friday, Alston went into Ames with the cleanest bill of health that he has had since injuring that thigh and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

With 130 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, Alston was the workhorse West Virginia needed to right the ship and return to the win column for the first time since Oct. 6.

"With him back there, he makes us a lot better," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said after the 31-24 win over Iowa State. "He's got to be healthy in order for that to be the case. We don't want to put a guy back there with a bum leg who doesn't look very good, but he's worked hard in rehabbing and getting himself back to where he can be productive and help the team, which he did."

Alston looked like the rusher who gave the Mountaineers hope in the ground game when the season began. That guy rushed the ball 16 times for 123 yards and two scores and there was a belief that with him toting the rock, there would be no more talk of a one-dimensional offense in Morgantown.

Friday's game was the closest he has looked to that same player he was in week one since that performance.

"That was about the last time that I can say that I was super, super healthy," Alston said. "Some people are getting worn down, but what did I sit out, maybe six, seven weeks? I wasn't even counting. I was so mad, I didn't even count. I'm definitely a lot healthier than I was at the midpoint in the season."

Those two games have provided 76 percent of Alston's production on the season, one in which the senior has played in just five games compared to six in which he sat out.

Alston may not have been counting, but the other Mountaineers continued to count on him. Whether he was getting limited touches or if he was simply roaming the team bench with a knee brace and street clothes, he did all he could to make sure no one forgot that he was there.

"He brings an energy to the team. He's a leader and the guys are excited when he's back," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "He's had a couple of good weeks, just trying to bring him back slowly. Him not playing last week was just an extra week to let him get his legs back under him and he came out and had a good week of practice and he made some plays today."

It was the second-straight week in which a running game that could hardly do anything since a Game 5 victory over Texas was looking like the bread and butter of Holgorsen's offense.

Against Oklahoma, it was Austin's 344 yards in his first college game as a feature back and a week later, he was able to play up the role as the change of pace along with Alston.

"There were a couple times in there when Tavon was sort of like a decoy and I think that froze the defense a little bit and with the job that the offensive line was doing in the trenches, it was only right that I had a good day," said Alston. "I was sometimes five or six yards downfield before anybody was coming up to hit me."

Austin added 74 yards on the ground and the rushing game outgained the passing for just the third time all season.

"I knew that there was a chance that I could get a lot of carries, but anytime when you produce, then the coaches are going to keep giving you the ball," said Alston. "You're not going to go out and start producing some and then they're going to take the ball away."

If Alston can remain healthy, that philosophy will likely carry over into the next two games for the Mountaineers, who have shown a balance on offense that did not exist for much of the past two seasons.

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