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Expect WVU Offense to Incorporate Packages with Both CJ Donaldson, Tony Mathis

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There are two main factors that may lead to an intriguing adjustment to the West Virginia offense. The return of CJ Donaldson and the loss of Mike O’Laughlin could create the need to put both Donaldson and Tony Mathis on the field at the same time.

WVU offensive coordinator Graham Harrell was asked about this possibility directly during his media session on Tuesday. “Yeah, we can put those two on the field. That wouldn’t be real hard for us,” Harrell said in response. This answer both confirmed that the possibility surely exists and that the Mountaineers are confident in a package using both of their running backs would work.

The thought behind this is also due to the fact that Donaldson is not your average running back and if this was brought up just a couple months ago it would not even be a two-back package at all. Donaldson was still listed as a tight end on the WVU roster several games into the season. Becoming a running back was not the original play for the freshman.

Head coach Neal Brown detailed his thought process of how to use Donaldson earlier this year once the now running back began emerging as a force to be reckoned with for defenders.

Brown said he wasn’t exactly sure what position he would get the most out of Donaldson, but knew he was “a true football player” that he needed to have on his roster. It wasn’t IF he would be able to utilize Donaldson, but how to use him for Brown and the WVU coaching staff. The 4th year head coach of the Mountaineers even explained that he talked with running back’s coach Chad Scott about giving Donaldson work with the other backs right before football camp over the summer. The thought process that they would be able to then determine if he could handle being an actual running back or would be best used some other way, most likely on special teams or extra packages.

Neal Brown, WVU Staff Knew They Had to Figure Out a Way to Utilize CJ Donaldson

It didn’t take long for Brown and Scott to realize, not only did Donaldson have the capabilities of being a running back, or half back as they put it, but that he could excel at the task. And that’s been evident through three games before he sustained a knee to the head against Texas.

This means WVU now has, assuming he’s healthy and practice goes well after recently clearing the concussion protocol process, an explosive running back who can utilize the force of his immense size to help block to go along with a true featured back in Tony Mathis, who is coming off a 163-yard performance and Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors. Mathis’ big game quieted any doubters that he could carry the load with Donaldson out. In Donaldson, the Mountaineers basically have a running back/tight end hybrid type player. That’s not a normal player  most teams have, and it certainly is one that could lend itself to filling the blocking void left by O’Laughlin and allowing WVU to incorporate two weapons simultaneously to cause defenses fits.

Quarterback JT Daniels also hinted that he would support the idea. He offered a “yeah, we could use both CJ and Tony out there together,” with his typical laid back demeanor. So WVU has a two-back situation unique to the game, an offensive coordinator and quarterback both clearly onboard and two players could pull off the package well. It seems like a no-brainer, right?

“Gotta find the hot hand and feed it,” is a line Harrell likes to say about deciding which plays to call. Well, it’s safe to say the opportunity always exists for WVU to have two hot hands at running back. How would the defense know which one is going to burst in that moment?

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Mike Asti is an experienced media personality and journalist with a vast résumé and skillset, most notably with TribLIVE Radio, WPXI and 93.7 The Fan. Asti now serves as the Managing Editor of WV Sports Now, manages and serves as the lead host for Pittsburgh Sports Live and contributes to Steelers Now, Pittsburgh Sports Now and Nittany Sports Now. He also contributes to West Virginia's Metro News among other outlets.

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