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West Virginia Kansas Football

Leddie Brown (4) was WVU’s leading rusher in 2019, but he ran for just 367 yards.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Gazette-Mail counts down the 10 most important players on WVU’s 2020 roster.

The West Virginia University football team’s running game wasn’t much of one in 2019.

The Mountaineers ranked third to last in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season, averaging just 73.3 rushing yards per game. For perspective, 69 individual FBS players averaged more rushing yards per game than WVU did as a team last year.

Unless that one dimension is among the best in the country, one-dimensional offenses don’t fare well in college football. Such was the case for WVU. The passing game was average, ranked 54th in the FBS. Yet the Mountaineers were 119th in total offense and 116th in scoring last season.

West Virginia must figure out a way to run the football in 2020, and the person that could lead the way is Leddie Brown.

Brown emerged last season as the most prolific runner in a poor running game. He finished with 367 yards and a touchdown on 107 carries. That 3.4 yards per carry was the best among the regular running backs.

The depth chart around him has cleared away. Kennedy McKoy (323 yards, three touchdowns) graduated. Martell Pettaway (1,023 career yards, 11 career touchdowns) transferred to Middle Tennessee.

The depth chart now is topped by Brown and Alec Sinkfield. At 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, the speedy Sinkfield can attack in bursts. Yet his frame might not be able to take the punishment that comes from loads of carries.

Brown, at 5-11 and 214 pounds, has the build to better withstand a heavier workload. Brown and McKoy were nearly equal in carries last season, McKoy with 99 carries to Brown’s 107. They also were nearly the same build, with McKoy at 6 feet and 204 pounds.

The running game isn’t just about the running backs. WVU’s offensive line must improve as well. But at least one back must step up and shoulder the burden of carrying the run game. The entire Mountaineer offense depends on it, and that offense likely will have to depend on Brown.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.