When you were as poor at running the ball as the West Virginia University football team was during Neal Brown’s first year as the Moutnaineer head coach, it would be a pretty safe bet to expect some attempted changes in that area as WVU closes 2019 and begins to look ahead to 2020.
As for just how drastic those changes will be for WVU, however, is anyone’s guess.
“When you’re as poor at that area as we were, everything’s on the table,” Brown said. “Schematics, the whole deal. That is the No. 1 thing — and there is a clear gap between that and anything else — we’ve got to get better at offensively.”
There are 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and West Virginia’s per game rushing average (73.25 yards) was good enough to land at No. 128 in the country. Nobody on WVU’s roster topped 75 rushing yards in a game during the 2019 season, while the team’s leading rusher — sophomore Leddie Brown — ran for just 367 yards.
West Virginia’s yards per carry average (2.63) was the second-worst in FBS this season, and the Mountaineers finished the season having not scored a rushing touchdown since quarterback Austin Kendall’s 1-yard scramble in the second quarter of West Virginia’s Oct. 5 loss to Texas in Morgantown — that’s a streak spanning 30 quarters of football and counting. The last time a WVU running back found the end zone? You have to go back to Martell Pettaway’s game-winning run in the fourth quarter at Kansas on Sept. 21.
“That’s why the offseason is so critical,” Neal Brown said. “We’ve got to do a better job finishing runs at running back. We’ve got to do a better job in space at running back. You can address some of that during the offseason and get a little better at that. And then some of that is recruiting. We’ve got to recruit guys who can compete for playing time.”
WVU’s recruiting efforts at running back took a hit this week when Brooklyn (New York) prep standout Lamy Constant reopened his recruitment after previously making a verbal pledge to the Mountaineers, and there are no other current commitments in West Virginia’s 2020 class at running back. The coaching staff is almost certainly working to change that between now and the Dec. 18 start of the early signing period, but the concept behind Brown’s plan is pretty simple — recruit players who are going to compete for playing time, and develop the guys once you get them on campus. In the quest to fix the West Virginia running game, that concept is not limited to just the running backs.
“The development piece is critical,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get stronger, especially on the interior part of the offensive line. Some of that’s youth, and time will solve that. Some of that is technique. There’s a strength component, but there’s a pad level component and there’s an explosive component to it we’ve got to get better at.”