West Virginia standout Austin will keep getting plenty of touches
By John Harris
Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 10:36 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads felt sick after West Virginia senior Tavon Austin rushed for a school-record 344 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma.
“We found out at the end of our game (a 51-23 win over Kansas),” said Rhoads, whose team hosts WVU at 3:30 p.m. Friday. “We started looking at the score first and the stats when we got back and put the tape on and saw how he was gaining all those yards. Then we (threw up).”
Austin's record-setting performance in the Mountaineers' 50-49 loss to Oklahoma sent shock waves throughout college football.
Not only was it the second-best rushing performance in school history, Austin also produced the most all-purpose yards in the NCAA this season with 572.
“He (already) has 100 catches. Now he rushes (for) over 300 yards against one of the best defenses — especially against the run,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. “Throw in the fact that he returns punts and kickoffs, I don't think No. 1 (Austin) is going to be my favorite player on the day we play.”
Kansas faces Austin and the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12), who have lost five in a row, on Dec. 1 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Austin's performance against Oklahoma — he also caught four passes for 82 yards and totaled 146 yards in kick returns — led to speculation that coach Dana Holgorsen will continue to feature the Baltimore native at running back.
“I have said from Day One, especially this year, that he is the most explosive player with the ball in his hands that I have ever seen,” Holgorsen said. “He makes a whole bunch of people miss and he runs real fast with the ball in his hands.”
Austin carried the ball a career-high 21 times against Oklahoma. He rushed 10 times for 264 yards in the second half featuring runs of 74, 56, 54 and 47 yards.
“The only person accounting for me was the safety one-on-one and I just had to beat him,” Austin said. “Either he would make the play or I would make the play. It caught them off guard.”
With the element of surprise gone, Austin may not be featured as prominently against Iowa State.
“Our job as coaches is to get him the ball as many ways as we can,” Holgorsen said. “He is a guy that you look for in matchups and you put him in position to exploit those matchups. How much we do it is going to be week to week.”
Holgorsen said the 5-foot-9, 171-pound Austin will also continue to play receiver, his natural college position.
“We can probably do some more things with him, but if Tavon was an every-down running back and could carry the ball 40 times a game, he would have been doing that for the last four games,” Holgorsen said.
WVU's career receiving leader, Austin doesn't want to be a full-time back when he reaches the NFL.
“I don't think I would last in the NFL as a running back,” he said. “If I do get that chance, then I'd like to go in the backfield a couple times. But I wouldn't change anything. I'd stay a receiver.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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