The above is Shawne Alston’s career highlight in a career that last season expanded to include many highlights.
It was a basic outside zone run play that was blocked pretty well despite the snow and a Rutgers defense that, for some reason, listened to Greg Schiano long enough through the years to do a fairly nice job contesting that design.
But the linemen also did their job, even in the slush, and engaged and even double-teamed their defenders, and Stedman Bailey adapted and blocked upfield/outside on a play in which he’s supposed to block inside. And then Alston ran wide and patiently and found the gap and hit it hard.
The description by the analyst is pretty good and would have been better if not for the fact it’s on top of the extra point. Call me crazy, but I would have preferred words with pictures of the run.
Again, not perfect, but perfectly acceptable given all that happened on that snap.
The zone plays, both inside and outside, are key elements in Dana Holgorsen’s running attack and Alston, it turns out, is all right at them even though he is not, by his own admission, the ideal height, weight and speed for the play. Typically, you look for and admire a shorter, lighter and quicker player to better fit into and then speed through the lanes.
Something like that. Turns out Alston’s “speed” is fine for the outside zone. Really, rarely will he out run the design. He’s also savvy enough to sit back, know the play and anticipate maneuvers by the blockers, some he’s played with for two seasons.
At some point, though, everyone, no matter their size at that position, has to do one thing: Square up and go. Alston’s size tends to help.
“It’s a little different for a bigger guy, especially the outside zone because there’s more lateral movement, but for both you want to get your shoulders straight and run downhill,” Alston said. “Once you get square, it’s your world.”
Quite often, players choose not to be a part of Alston’s world. At 5 feet, 11 inches and 220, 225 pounds last season, he could be a handful. Virtually all of his 12 touchdown runs came on short plays when WVU ran an inside zone and the blockers took advantage of the small space and the big body behind them to block upfield and let Alston barrel through the openings.
Alston, now pushing 240 pounds (!) and aiming to get 10 or so lower, seems to have answered a question the offense asked last season: Could a big back play for Holgorsen? The answer was rather resounding, and while he’s not an every-down back and Holgorsen may still tend to favor Drew Buie and eventually Dustin Garrison, we forget Alston is rather skilled and really was the team’s third-down back in 2010.
He can play. He does not turn first downs into touchdowns, but he can run the plays the offense calls.
“You have to be able to look at the defense and know the blocking and understand the system and have some anticipation to help the linemen get their blocks,” Alston said. “When you run the zone (to the) right, you have to push (to the) right so the defense flows and the linemen get the blocks. Then you just make the cut.
“Size doesn’t really matter too much. It’s all about getting downhill.”