OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Oklahoma’s defense has vastly improved this season and the West Virginia University run game could never get going Saturday against the Sooners.
No big surprise there, considering how bad the Mountaineers have been on the ground this season.
WVU ran for 67 total yards on 30 carries Saturday in the “Palace on the Prairie,” averaging out to 1.7 yards per attempt. That’s down from West Virginia’s season average of 2.9 yards per carry, but that ain’t good either.
All season, many of us have wondered just what it will take to get the Mountaineers in a groove on the ground, but maybe there isn’t an answer as long as the team is constructed the way it is.
West Virginia’s problem running ball doesn’t stem from a scheme or poor play calling. WVU has a personnel problem that’s not going away this season. The Mountaineers are what they are, and that’s a team that is among the worst in the country at running the ball.
Sophomore Leddie Brown has probably been the best of the bunch, but he hasn’t been all that good. Senior Kennedy McKoy has battled an ankle injury in recent weeks, but he wasn’t all that productive when healthy. Sophomore Alec Sinkfield has been a non-factor as far as getting carries is concerned and senior Martell Pettaway is on the shelf as a redshirt for the rest of the season.
First-year West Virginia head coach Neal Brown was asked if there is anything that can be done to get the ground game going after Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma, and his answer was very interesting.
“It is what it is,” Brown said. “We’ve tried about everything. It was going to be a struggle. When we play against some really good people, we’re playing young guys that are just not as physically mature as some of the guys we are playing. What happens is, you get two or three yards per carry but then when you have a negative play — whether its a negative run or a procedure penalty — then those three yards aren’t good enough. We’ve got to do better. I think we will be better finishing the year, but it’s not going to be a position of strength until our guys get older and we’re able to make some personnel changes.”
There is a lot to unpack there.
The run game is more than the running backs, obviously. West Virginia’s offensive line has been shuffled around this season, with its two best players being the tackles. In a vacuum, having two tackles you can trust isn’t a bad thing at all. In WVU’s case, however, the Mountaineers are dealing with youth and inexperience at both guard positions and at center with guys like freshman Briason Mays at center while inexperienced guards Mike Brown and James Gmiter playing plenty as well. Is it a good sign for the future that these young players are seeing so much playing time? I think so. Does it mean there are going to be some growing pains in the present? Absolutely. The proof has been on display every Saturday.
The “personnel changes” Brown mentioned is also interesting. Brown and his staff coveted running back Tony Mathis while still at Troy, and that didn’t change once they got to Morgantown. Mathis, now a WVU freshman from Orlando, has yet to play this season and seems a likely candidate for a redshirt season. It’s no secret teams, and certainly not just WVU, have been holding back players with the possibility of getting them in the game late in the season to stay under the four-game threshold.
That time is fast approaching for West Virginia, and assuming there is no drastic change in performance on the ground over the next few weeks it would not be a surprise to see Brown and his staff get a look at what some of the other guys have to offer in November.