At first glance, one might think the only thing West Virginia’s Leddie Brown and Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn have in common is the position they play – running back.
At 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, Brown has the size of a prototypical Big 12 running back. He’s not the biggest back in the league – Texas’s Keaontay Ingram tips the scales at 222 pounds – but he’s got the size of a typical power back. Vaughn, on the other hand, comes in at just 5-foot-5 and 168 pounds, the smallest back in the Big 12 by far.
And yet, Brown and Vaughn play surprisingly similar roles for the Mountaineers and Wildcats, as WVU football coach Neal Brown explained during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We’ve moved [Leddie] around a lot,” Neal Brown said. “We’ve played him a lot in our empty packages, we feel really confident with him running our complete route tree. They’re using the Vaughn kid in a very similar fashion. Leddie’s bigger, Vaughn probably has a little bit more shake to him but both are really good players in our league.”
Despite their size difference, the commonality between Brown and Vaughn is how productive both has been running and catching the ball this season.
A junior, Brown is second in the Big 12 with 592 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns heading into Saturday’s game. He is also the Mountaineers’ fourth-leading pass-catcher, with 138 receiving yards and two more touchdowns.
Likewise, Vaughn, a true freshman, is sixth in the conference with 309 rushing yards and tied for second in the league with 360 receiving yards. He had scored five total touchdowns. He is averaging 133.8 yards from scrimmage per game this season.
Neal Brown and his co-defensive coordinators Jordan Lesley and Jahmile Addae all agreed that the first step to stopping Vaughn is find out where he is on the field.
“They do a really good job with that kid of getting him hid in the formation and getting him the ball and trying to create matchups, said Lesley, the defensive line coach. “They’ve done that in every game and they’ll try to do it to us.”
“We’ve got to treat their pass game almost like you would treat an option run game where you practice without a ball and make sure everyone’s accounted for and make sure everyone’s got their eyes in the right spots,” Addae, the defensive backs coach, said. “Every week we come out, we want to make sure we can account for any player that can possibly hurt us down the field or in the run game. This week is no different.”
Lesley said finding Vaughn before every play is challenging enough, and then you have to be able to tackle him.
“They use him in a matchup situation so you have to make sure you matchup up correctly. Where you put your pieces has got to match where they put their pieces,” Lesley said. “Finding him’s one thing but when you do find him and he’s got the ball, the day one fundamentals [of tackling] are really the only thing that’s important.”
Addae said there are certain ways the defense can prepare schematically to try and limit the damage Vaughn can do.
“If you’re going to line up against this running back and cover 53 yards worth of field left to right, good luck,” Addae said. “If you know where your help is and you’re able to play to that, that can cut the 53 yards into 20 yards of space that you have to cover. Those are the types of things as coaches that we have to be able to do for our players to minimize the ability for the explosive play.”