MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The climb continues for West Virginia’s ground game.
The Mountaineers went from bad to average in that department last season. According to head coach Neal Brown, the goal for 2021 is to go from average to good — or hopefully, great.
But with the first week of fall camp in the books, it’s clear to Brown that there’s still a lot of work to do, especially after Saturday’s scrimmage, which produced mixed results and revealed some “bad habits” within the squad.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Brown said. “I don’t know if any offensive coach is gonna say, a week into camp, hey, our run game is right where we want it to be. It really takes a long time because you can’t work on it in the summer. You can go out there, and the guys can throw seven-on-seven. It’s not exactly like it’s gonna be in practice, but they’re quality reps. Run game is during spring ball and fall camp, that’s when you work on it, but I think we’re making progress.”
After ranking last in he Big 12 in rushing in 2019, the Mountaineers improved their rushing average by 61.9 yards per game last season. Only Iowa State enjoyed a greater improvement by a slim margin of 0.1 yards per game.
Running back Leddie Brown’s 1,000-yard campaign was a big reason behind that growth. With the feature back returning for his senior season along with multiple returning starters on the offensive line, West Virginia is in position to improve its rushing attack again.
Redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis could also be a contributor this season. He appears to be establishing himself as the team’s top backup at running back, especially after “standing out” in Saturday’s scrimmage at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“He had a couple touchdowns,” Neal Brown said. “Thought he ran the ball with great balance, broke tackles. Excited for him.”
But penalties threaten to impede the ground game’s progress this fall, and they were among the most telling negatives of Saturday’s scrimmage, according to the head coach. Last season, only one Big 12 program averaged more penalty yards per game than West Virginia, and minimizing those mistakes will be a priority for this team.
“What happens is, a lot of little things add up, so if you don’t get it fixed right now, then all of a sudden, we look poorly coached on game day, so we better get it fixed,” Neal Brown said.
West Virginia opens its 2021 campaign at Maryland in 20 days.