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Meet the Mountaineers: WVU Needs its Running Backs to be More Productive in 2020

Cody Nespor

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Meet the Mountaineers is a series previewing every position on West Virginia’s football team for 2020. Every day we will focus on a different position group and look at all the players we will see there in 2020. Yesterday we looked at the battle for the starting quarterback role. Tomorrow we will go through the entirety of WVU’s crowded receiving corps.

If West Virginia had gotten even average production from its running backs in 2019, the Mountaineers most likely would have been in a bowl game at the end of the season.

In reality, however, WVU was one of the least productive running teams in the entire nation last season, a fact that held the entire offense back.

While every other Big 12 team rushed for more than 1,700 yards in 2019, the Mountaineers only gained 879 yards on the ground. WVU was also the only team to score less than 10 rushing touchdowns (seven) while only one other team rushed for less than 20. Both Oklahoma (3,363 yards, 38 touchdowns) and Oklahoma State (2,985 yards, 27 touchdowns) more than tripled WVU’s production.

While a team’s rushing success certainly depends on more than just its running backs, we will talk about the offensive line next week, it is the running backs who ultimately need to carry the ball and gain the yards. Last season, the Mountaineers used a running back by committee approach. 

Leddie Brown (107 carries) and Kennedy McKoy (99 carries) had an almost even split of the workload by season’s end and Martell Pettaway (27 carries) would surely have been more in the mix if he had not decided to transfer after four games.

With McKoy having graduated following the season, head coach Neal Brown has said that he is looking for the team to feature just one running back more in 2020. 

“Very few people do it where one guy gets the majority of the carries anymore, NFL or college,” Brown said following one of the team’s few practices this fall. “We’d like to have a lead running back, we’d like to have some separation.”

Brown has also acknowledged this offseason that no matter who is carrying the ball, the offensive line needs to be better. Brown and offensive line coach Matt Moore have decided to use a simplified run-blocking scheme to make improvements along the line.

Key Departures:

Kennedy McCoy – Graduation

Martell Pettaway – Transfer, Middle Tennessee State

Returning Players (2019 Stats):

Jr. Leddie Brown (107 carries, 367 yards, 1 TD)

R-Jr. Alec Sinkfield (17 carries, 41 yards, 2 TD)

R-Fr. Tony Mathis Jr. (4 carries, 14 yards)

R-Sr. Lorenzo Dorr (2 carries, 9 yards)

R-Jr. T.J. Kpan

R-Fr. Owen Chafin

R-So. Jason Edwards

Additions:

Fr. Avarius Sparrow

Camp Battles:

Leddie Brown seems like the clear cut favorite to be the team’s feature back so any camp battles will be for getting carries behind him. Alec Sinkfield and Tony Mathis should both have roles in the offense given their skillsets and everyone else on the roster will be fighting to get whatever touches are leftover. 

Projected Starter:

Jr. Leddie Brown

All offseason Neal Brown has been tabbing Leddie Brown as the team’s feature back for 2020. So long as he stays healthy, Brown should get enough carries to have a pretty nice season when all is said and long, as long as he can be more productive than in 2019.

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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