Dreamius Smith picking up the slack for West Virginia rushing attack
West Virginia running backs Rushel Shell and Dreamius Smith have been headed in opposite directions the past month.
Shell, the former Hopewell star and Pitt transfer, had 111 carries for 490 yards and six touchdowns in the first six games. But the junior has just 16 carries for 70 yards and no touchdowns while missing action in the past four.
Smith, the top returning rusher from 2013, has picked up the slack during that time with 40 carries for 302 yards, a 7.6-yard average. In the Mountaineers’ 33-16 loss to Texas before their bye week, Smith ran for a career best 100 yards on 10 carries.
Most came on a 62-yard run. In the prior two games, he had runs of 40 and 50 yards. Those are the three longest runs for the Mountaineers (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) this season.
Last season, his first with WVU after transferring from Butler (Kan.) Community College, Smith ran for 494 yards.
That was second behind departed senior Charles Sims, who now starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Outperformed by Shell and Wendell Smallwood, Smith slid down the depth chart during fall camp and was a forgotten man earlier in the season. He had just 27 carries for 109 yards in the first six games.
“It was challenging early in the year,” the 5-foot-11, 216-pound senior said. “Every running back that’s been in my position would say that. I just waited for my time to come, and I’m taking advantage of every rep.”
Smith said his mother gave him support, telling him to “keep my head up.”
“The biggest thing is him being a team player and not giving up, especially being a senior,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said. “When other guys in front of him had success, he could have easily tanked it.”
Shell’s troubles began Oct. 18 against Baylor when he left early in the first quarter with a sprained ankle after three carries for 13 yards. He sat out the next game against Oklahoma State.
The third-year sophomore returned for the TCU game but lost a fumble in the second quarter and ran once thereafter, ending up with 35 yards on eight carries.
In the loss to Texas, Shell carried five times for 22 yards before leaving in the second quarter after re-injuring the ankle.
Early last week, after the Texas game, Holgorsen said Shell “can’t get healthy right now.” After Saturday’s bye, Holgorsen on Monday said Shell is expected to play against No. 12 Kansas State (7-2, 5-1) on Thursday.
With 411 yards, Smith is catching Shell (560) and Smallwood, who leads the team with 585 yards but just 109 in the past two games. Holgorsen last week said Smallwood was “wearing down” but is refreshed after the bye.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.