MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Much like last year, the WVU offense will rely on its running game to move the ball. But unlike last season, West Virginia is entering the season with an experienced group of running backs.
When the 2022 season kicked off, only Tony Mathis had significant game action under his belt. Fast forward to the present day and the Mountaineers are blessed with 75% of its rushing production from a season ago, and that’s despite the departure of Mathis to Houston.
CJ Donaldson has a season at the position behind him and is in better shape and expected to be even more dynamic. Jaylen Anderson is poised for a breakout season after earning Big 12 newcomer honors last season. And then there’s Justin Johnson Jr., the often overlooked veteran back who uses a combination of strength and quickness to be a problem for any defender.
Johnson is confident in his game, but also knows any back who touches the ball can get the job done.
“Last year boosted my confidence a lot. It was my first real action seeing the field. The game slowed down for me a lot so I’m expecting to have a big year,” Johnson said while speaking with the media on Friday after practice.
He continued. “I can make people miss but I can also make them make business decisions. If they see me coming full speed ahead, they’ll think twice,” added Johnson about what he brings to the offense.
Johnson also mentioned why he believes in West Virginia’s running game so much, and his confidence extends beyond just the aforementioned returning players. Freshman Jahiem White and DJ Oliver have been impressing coaches and teammates since walking on campus.
Johnson even admitted he’s been able to learn from the freshman backs. When what Johnson has been taking from the talented freshman, he singled out White and said watching the three-star recruit has helped him incorporate more skills into his bag of tricks.
“His speed. He’s really fast. He’s also shifty. He’s special. He is great with the ball in his hands. He is going to be a special player.”
There might be a debate on which quarterback should start and how he will perform. There are questions surrounding an entirely new group of receivers. But there’s no doubt the Mountaineers can count on production from the running game. And Johnson knows part of why each running back will have success is because they are blessed with the benefit of an elite offensive line. “Those guys are not to be messed with,” Johnson said with a big smile on his face while referring to Zach Frazier, Doug Nester and company.
No matter what doubters and critics may be saying, Johnson feels the depth of the running backs and the offense leaning on its ground game will lead to the potential for West Virginia to enjoy big plays.
“I’ve definitely seen separation on the team, especially in the offense. Some people are starting to explode while some are getting exposed. That’s how it is.”
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