The resurgence in the ground game was the bright spot of the 2020 WVU football season as it nearly doubled its rushing output from the year prior.
An even more improved rushing attack was expected this season, but the Mountaineers have struggled to get things going in that area through the first half of the season. Through six games, they have totaled 650 yards and have only surpassed 100 rushing yards twice — vs. Long Island and Virginia Tech. During that same span last year, WVU had rushed more than 1,000 yards and had four games that eclipsed the century mark.
It’s no surprise the ground game was a focal point of the open week, but in order to take that next step, everyone involved in the offense has to do the same.
“It starts with this — we have to take our correct run game footwork on the offensive line and at tight end, and it has to be consistent. We need all those guys working as one,” head coach Neal Brown said in an exclusive interview for The Neal Brown show. “Then at running back we have to break tackles, be consistent with our run reads and trust what is happening in front of us. At quarterback, we have to be able to manipulate the extra defender. You are always going to have one defender you can’t block so we’ve got to do a good job reading that guy, and that’s what we’ve been working on with a plan of how to better execute Saturday evening.”
The Mountaineers head to Fort Worth with the worst rushing offense in the Big 12 Conference. They average 108.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per attempt. Last season, the averages were 135.1 and 3.8.
Over the past few seasons, West Virginia’s lack of depth up front has shown up in the rushing stats, and it continues to do so. As far as protection goes, the Mountaineers have allowed the most sacks (16) in the conference.
During last week’s press conference, the head coach said they have to get more production from the offense line, especially on the right side. The quarterback of that unit, Farimont native Zach Frazier, wants to see more cohesion.
“We all have to do our job every single play for a play to be successful. A lot of times it’s everyone doing it but one person,” the sophomore center said. “That’s all it takes for a bad play and it’s also all it takes for a good play if everyone is on the same page.”
Leddie Brown is not only the feature back, he’s the focal point of this offense. He was a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago and averaging 101 yards per game. Exceeding that production was the expectation this season. Brown currently has 422 rushing yards on 95 attempts and six touchdowns. He’s averaging 73.3 yards and only has one 100-yard performance. That drop in stats is something Frazier takes personally.
“It all starts with us, so that is on us,” Frazier said. “We definitely need to fix that in the second half of the season.”
Does Brown himself have frustrations about those numbers? Of course. But he knows that if he can improve his stats, that means the entire offense is improving. That’s his focus and as one of the leaders, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
“I believe we aren’t far off. It’s just a couple of plays, like when people get tired we just need them to strain a little more. Even for myself, I need to be a little more disciplined with my eyes. I’m not saying we need to be perfect, no one is perfect, but we need to go a little bit more as a whole offense,” Leddie Brown said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win, that is the main goal.”
As for the guys behind Leddie Brown on the depth chart, they still have yet to emerge and claim that backup spot. Finding that reliable No. 2 guy was a priority during fall camp and that still is the case halfway through the season. Sophomore quarterback Garrett Greene is currently WVU’s second-leading rusher with 230 yards and four touchdowns. True freshman Justin Johnson has 55 yards on 18 attempts. Redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis was expected to be the guy behind Leddie Brown but he’s been dealing with an injury and only has nine attempts.
Coach Brown anticipates that changing this weekend.
“He’s been hurt. He’s looked better during the bye week,” Neal Brown said of Mathis. “He had a great spring and fall camp up until he got hurt. We need somebody to step up not only for this year but for next year because Leddie Brown isn’t coming back. It’s his senior season, so we need somebody to step up. If we don’t, we will continue with Garrett Geene being our second-leading rusher and continue to get him in the game and find a way for him to run the football.”