All offseason the talk surrounding the West Virginia football team has centered around how bad the Mountaineers were at running the ball last season and how they can improve in 2020.
WVU (1-0) was one of the worst rushing teams in the nation last season. As a team, the Mountaineers ran for just 879 total yards all season. For the man who will actually be doing the ball carrying this season, running back Leddie Brown, all that talk really affected him.
“I’m taking everything personal this season because last season ain’t nobody had faith in us,” Brown told reporters following WVU’s win over Eastern Kentucky Saturday. “Coming into this season I’m here to prove them wrong.”
All the offseason work paid off in the season-opener, as the Mountaineers ran for 329 total yards in a 56-10 rout of the Colonels. On just 10 first-half carries, Brown had 123 rushing yards, nearly one-third of his rushing total from all of 2019.
After finishing with a 5-7 record in his first year at WVU, head coach Neal Brown said he and the offensive coaching staff have worked for a long time planning on how to improve the running game for 2020.
“We have put a plan together, really it started in the month of November, how we have to get better,” said Brown. “Because you’re not going to be a championship program and win at the elite level in the Big 12 unless you can run the ball and stop the run. We were okay stopping the run last year but we ran the ball putrid.”
The player Brown, now a junior, said his main goal this offseason was to develop a better relationship with his offensive linemen.
“I love the fat boys,” Brown said. “All camp since we came back in July I’ve been trying to get closer with the line, trying to figure out what they’re doing so I know what to do when it’s time to get into action. That’s been a big stride from last year.
“It is a big difference in the way we block the runs up this season. The biggest difference is my relationship with the linemen.”
It was not only Brown finding success on the ground Saturday. His backup Alec Sinkfield also ran for 123 yards on 15 carries and third-stringer Tony Mathis had 56 yards on 18 carries.
That kind of success running the ball made it easier for the rest of WVU’s offense.
“When the running game is working that means the pass game is probably working too,” starting quarterback Jarret Doege explained. “When you open up the run game, it opens up and allows you to pass the ball as well.”
Like Brown, Doege only played in the first half but completed 19 of 25 pass attempts for 228 yards and three touchdowns. WVU’s three quarterbacks, Doege, Austin Kendall and Garrett Greene, combined to throw 25-35 for 295 yards and a 170.51 passer rating.
Despite the success they had Saturday, Brown, now in his second year as head coach, said one game is not enough to call the running game a success yet.
“This is just the start,” Brown said after the game. “Just because we did it today doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we’ve arrived. We’ve got to go to Stillwater (Oklahoma) and we’ve got to do it and we’ve got to do it against Baylor and we’ve got to do it against people that we have got to beat to be competitive in our league.”
The Mountaineers will have next week off before traveling to Stillwater, Oklahoma on Sept. 26 to begin Big 12 play by taking on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were originally scheduled to play Tulsa this weekend, but that game was postponed to Sept. 19 due to COVID-19.