By Jim Butta
MORGANTOWN - Sometimes a player lives up to his preseason hype. Such is the case with University of Houston transfer Charles Sims, who made his West Virginia debut on Saturday.
The Inter-Mountain photos by John Wickline
West Virginia defensive lineman Shaq Rowell (90) leads a group of Mountaineer tacklers in stopping William & Mary’s Jarrell Cooper (21) during Saturday’s season-opening game in Morgantown.
Making the move to Morgantown after leading the Cougars in rushing with 851 yards a year ago, the six-footer made an immediate impact on Saturday, rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries and scoring WVU's first touchdown in 2013 on an 11-yard drive in the first quarter.
"I really didn't think I was that busy," Sims said. "It didn't feel like 23 carries."
It was and West Virginia needed every one to overcome a fired-up William and Mary team that took a 17-7 lead into the locker rooms at intermission.
"We ran the ball well at times," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "We can still run it a lot better. Our three-man stack was OK, but there were several times where we were one block away from breaking a big run, but didn't get the block."
In fact, WVU's longest run from scrimmage was 19 yards by Sims and the Mountaineer offense produced only two plays of 19 yards or more - Paul Millard's 69-yard scoring strike to Ronald Carswell in the third quarter being the other.
In all West Virginia utilized the talents of all four of its running backs on the depth chart and even wide receiver Mario Alford.
Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith contributed 40 yards on 12 carries. True freshman Wendall Smallwood finished with 22 yards on four carries and tallied the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard plunge with 3:22 left in the game.
Junior Dustin Garrison, the Mountaineers leading rusher as a true freshman, carried the football once for three yards.
"It (having four running backs) is a good feeling," head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I've used three running backs in a game, but I'm not used to having four that can all play."
But, fans should not expect the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator to shelve his "Air Raid" attack as WVU prepares to take on Big 12 rival Oklahoma.
"I wouldn't say that," said the coach. "We will do what is best for us offensively. If that means running the football, then we will run the football.
"But, we have weapons at receiver as well. In fact Charles (Sims) might be our best receiver as well."
One thing is for certain, Holgorsen and his third West Virginia squad will have a big test in Norman at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"This is one of the reasons why I came here," Sims said. "I wanted the chance to play in big games against teams like Oklahoma and Texas and I knew I would get that chance here."
The former Cougar also wanted to come to an offense that could utilize all of his talents as well as reconnecting with a coach - Holgorsen - who helped him develop as a true freshman at Houston.
"I'm comfortable here," Sims said. "The terminology is a little bit different, but the basic offense is much like we ran at Houston when coach (Holgorsen) was there."
Sims wasn't the only Mountaineer to enjoy a big day in his first start in the old gold and blue. Junior quarterback Paul Millard connected on his first eight attempts, finishing with 19-of-25 passing for 237 yards and one touchdown in his first start at WVU.
"It was a nice beginning, but there are still a lot of things that I can do better," Millard said. "I think I did a good job of pushing the tempo, especially in the second half."
Locked in a tbattle to take over the position held by New York Jets' second-round pick Geno Smith, Millard led the Mountaineers to a touchdown on his first drive.
His primary competitor for the job - former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett - was unable to complete a pass in his two attempts.
But, that doesn't mean the competition is over.
"We really didn't get a chance to get a good look at Clint," said Dawson. "Once we fell behind at halftime we were more concerned winning the game.
"Paul has been in the offense for two years and has a better understanding. That doesn't mean that Clint won't continue to see plenty of reps in practice. We will have both ready for Oklahoma on Saturday."