CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approaching the end of his stellar career at West Virginia, Tavon Austin continues to find ways to impress his teammates.
Now he has a new fan in Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads.
After returning from a 51-23 win at Kansas, Rhoads started looking at the tape of West Virginia’s 50-49 home loss to Oklahoma and quickly realized what Austin was up to.
“Soon after that, we vomited,” Rhoads joked.
Running all over a Sooners defense that was set up to stop the pass made Oklahoma sick, too.
Used at the running back position for the first time this season, Austin amassed a school-record 344 rushing yards and Big 12 record 572 all-purpose yards Saturday.
With a shorter week to prepare before West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) travels to play the Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) play on Friday, Rhoads is scrambling to come up with ways to slow down Austin.
“It’s a pain in the rear end, especially with a six-day work week,” Rhoads said. “Seven days are hard enough to prepare for the offenses that you face in this league, and then they start doing things different and you’ve got the unknown. You don’t want to chase ghosts, but to a certain extent, you have to, especially when that player is as talented as he is.
The only thing to stop Austin against Oklahoma was time. West Virginia had the ball near midfield when the clock ran out. Austin came up 6 yards short of the Bowl Subdivision record set in 2000 by Utah State’s Emmett White against New Mexico State.
“You don’t do that against the University of Oklahoma and their personnel,” Rhoads said. “You just don’t do that. He’s a very, very special player and now you’ve got to spend the time to make sure you’re ready for it. You give your kids at least a chance to try to tackle him.”
Scoring on runs of 4 and 74 yards, Austin became the first player in school history to have a touchdown receiving, rushing and on kick and punt returns in the same season.
The senior also had 82 yards receiving and 142 yards on kickoff returns against the Sooners. His all-purpose yards average jumped to 231 and he’s now second nationally behind Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews, who’s at 241.
Even in an offense averaging 510 yards per game, Austin’s effort left his teammates in awe.
“I don’t think you can put that in perspective,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “The offensive line got him to the second level, and that was all she wrote. He does a great job of bursting in and out of cuts. He makes guys on the second level that are really talented look silly. I don’t know how he does it.”
Coach Dana Holgorsen admits Austin should have been used in the backfield long ago. At least he’ll have that option as the Mountaineers try to break a five-game losing streak and become bowl eligible in their final two games.
“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. “He is a guy that you look for matchups and you put him in a position to exploit those matchups. That is not necessarily always going to be the case with him in the backfield.”
Austin was moved from slot receiver because Holgorsen wanted to shore up a running attack that had failed to reach 100 yards in three straight games. Austin was reunited with the position he played at Baltimore’s Dunbar High School before switching to receiver in college.
“They told me I was going to get the ball quite a bit, but I didn’t think it was going to be 21 times,” Austin said. “Being in the backfield, it felt like I was back at Dunbar. It probably took me about two or three plays, but everything came back in how I would read blocks and it worked.”
Yet if he had the chance to start his career over, Austin would keep things the same.
“No, I think it would still play slot,” he said. “Just for my reasoning only, for my dream to play in the NFL. I don’t think I would last in the NFL as a running back.”
No matter what Holgorsen decides to do with Austin this week, Iowa State can’t forget Austin as a receiver.
He has a team-high 100 catches for 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. He leads the nation with 10 catches per game, and with two more receptions, he’ll break the single-season school record he set last year.
“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.