West Virginia RB Jaylen Anderson Poised for Breakout Season in 2023
For much of the 2022 season, West Virginia running back Jaylen Anderson rarely stepped on the field. Being relegated to fourth-string likely didn’t do much for his confidence, either.
But, all it took was a pair of games to jump Anderson’s status from a reserve into a potential key piece in the Mountaineers backfield.
And now, after what has been a strong showing at practice so far this spring, Anderson is confident he can make an impact for the Mountaineers this year, after leading West Virginia in last season’s final two contests.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence in myself,” Anderson said during a news conference on Thursday. “It just really shows me that I’m ready for this and, once I lock in, I can do whatever I want. It just gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of help moving forward.”
In his first taste of consistent action on the field, Anderson rushed for 69 yards on seven carries in West Virginia’s home finale against Kansas State.
He followed with a breakout performance of 15 rushes for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-19 victory over Oklahoma State to close the 2022 campaign. Anderson’s scores came on runs of 54 and 57 yards, both in the third quarter.
Anderson’s performance earned him the Big 12 Co-Newcomer of the Week honors after the Mountaineers’ first win over the Cowboys in eight years.
“It still seems surreal,” Anderson said. “It just felt like the game slowed down. I just felt really comfortable and I just felt like I played faster. I just felt like I had been there before.”
Looking at Anderson’s stats for West Virginia’s first 10 games, it would be hard to see how the redshirt sophomore could feel this way. Anderson appeared in just four of those contests.
He compiled six rushes for 33 yards in West Virginia’s 65-7 blowout win over Towson before not touching the ball against Virginia Tech. Anderson then added a combined 18 yards on seven carries against TCU and Oklahoma, also getting his lone reception of the season versus the Horned Frogs.
As the season progressed, injuries began to take a toll on the West Virginia backfield. Starters CJ Donaldson and Tony Mathis Jr. went down prior to the Kansas State matchup, thus opening the door for Anderson and third-string back Justin Johnson Jr.
All four Mountaineers averaged above four yards per carry while reaching 250 rushing yards in 2022, with three surpassing 400. Mathis Jr. led with 562, followed by Donaldson (526), Johnson Jr. (430) and Anderson (275).
“We all just really want to see each other shine,” Anderson said. “It’s never really been about one person. We just want to see each other do good. We feed off of each other and each other’s success. We always compete against each other, but it’s always together at the end of the day.”
All four backs will have the chance to be productive in West Virginia’s offense this upcoming season.
Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown previously said the Mountaineers will be revamping their playbook to play more to the team’s strengths, which also includes West Virginia’s two mobile quarterbacks Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol along with the tandem of rushers.
“Very few running back rooms in the country have four guys that have been really productive,” Brown said. “I think Justin almost had 100, but the other three guys had over 100 yards in a game last year. I think that speaks well.”
Anderson hopes to prove he is ready for a spot in the offensive rotation by improving his body along with his skillset.
The 5-foot-11, 214-pounder said he has worked on his conditioning this spring, making a note that he was not in the best of shape when he arrived at Morgantown. He is also aiming to get better in tune with his teammates and what West Virginia wants to do on the field.
Anderson gave credit to his teammates and coaches for helping him get adjusted.
“I would never really say (I got) frustrated because, in a sense, I really wasn’t ready to play at the college level yet when I first arrived here,” Anderson said. “I would just say they did a good job of developing me and making sure I was ready and had all the tools I needed to be able to be successful at this level.”