West Virginia University is home to college football’s leader in pass breakups and passes defended, Beanie Bishop. Morgantown is also home to arguably the most consistent rushing attack among the Power 5 conferences.
Neal Brown’s squad leads all Power 5 teams by rushing for 140 or more yards in 11 straight games. UCF is second with eight consecutive games of at least 140 rushing yards, and LSU’s streak of seven straight games is the third-longest among Power 5 schools.
It’s an impressive streak — the best of the Neal Brown era, and the longest for WVU since a 16-game stretch from Sept. 5, 2015, through Sept. 24, 2016. Though, it’s not something that’s necessarily on the team’s radar.
“We don’t really pay too much attention to that,” said CJ Donaldson, who rushed for 121 yards in the win over UCF. “We worry about more how we play the game than the outcome of the stat line.”
The Mountaineers rushed for 286 yards last Saturday in its 41-28 win over UCF. West Virginia has rushed for no fewer than 146 yards in any game this season. The Mountaineers have eclipsed 200 rushing yards as a team four times this year.
WVU’s stretch of rushing consistency began with the Oklahoma game last November. That day, led by 119 yards on the ground from quarterback Garrett Greene, WVU ripped off 203 yards as a team.
West Virginia is 7-4 during this streak. It’s 5-1 when its leading rusher tallies at least 100 yards. Five different players, including two quarterbacks, have been WVU’s leading rushers during the team’s last 11 games.
“[It’s] a complete team deal. It’s a testament to coach [Matt] Moore and the guys up front, and those guys being able to plug and play,” said offensive coordinator Chad Scott. “It’s next man up. Same thing in my room. Credit to those guys for preparing, and paying attention in practice, and executing plays, which they should be, within practice like they’re game reps. And, you know, it’s also a testament to Garrett at the quarterback spot, not taking negative plays.”
Maybe what’s even more impressive is how the Mountaineers maintained consistency despite injuries both at running back and on the offensive line. Only Zach Frazier (center) and Doug Nester (tackle) have started all 11 games at their position. WVU has used two starters at left guard and tackles, and right guard, this year. Nester is categorized as “doubtful” for this Saturday’s game against BYU, according to Neal Brown.
“We really have seven guys that can start at any point, and just like you’ve seen throughout the season, both [Nick Malone and Ja’Quay Hubbard] have come in and haven’t missed a beat – neither one of them. They’ve done a great job,” said Frazier. “I feel like the seven of us, we can plug and play anywhere and I don’t think there’s a drop-off.”
The Big 12 Conference has changed. Once the premier passing league in college football, there is now an emphasis on running the ball. West Virginia ranks 16th in the country, but fifth in the conference in rushing.
Even with this successful string of games carrying the ball, and now averaging 203.3 rushing yards per game this season, the Mountaineers still feel they haven’t reached their peak performance in the running game.
“It can get even better than what it’s been, to be honest with you,” Scott said of the offense as a whole. “We still haven’t played our best. But what we’re doing right now is what we believe we can be offensively coming into the football season. Being able to control the line of scrimmage, run the football effectively, be able to pass the football effectively.”
Over this 11-game stretch, the Mountaineers are averaging 202.91 rushing yards per game, and have netted a total of 2,232 yards on the ground. The last time WVU rushed for that many yards in a single season was in 2016.
West Virginia is on track to rack up 2,440 rushing yards as a team this year.