MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – From the first whistle of spring practice, West Virginia coaches have made it crystal-clear that the running backs are the focal point of this year’s offense.
Needless to say, no one was anticipating a vanishing act in Week 1. With James Madison sold-out to stop the run, the Mountaineers were stymied for 1.4 yards per carry. Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway never gained more than 5 yards on a single carry.
That has to change starting this week at Missouri.
“Will we come out and run the ball like Army? I don’t know,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “But hopefully we’ll be more physical.”
The Mountaineers were pushed around by a smaller JMU team, but WVU coaches think that is a symptom of mind over muscles.
“I don’t know if I overprepared them,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “They played very careful. That’s something we have to correct.”
Brown said that the linemen – four of whom are playing different positions than a year ago and three of whom are new starters – seemed too preoccupied with making sure they didn’t miss their assignments. That slight hesitation proved enough for the veteran Dukes to gain superior leverage and push the bigger Mountaineers around.
“When guys get concerned about missing guys, they don’t come off the ball as hard,” Brown said. “Those guys were in a new position and were scared of missing and allowing a tackle for loss. You’ve got to play where you can be explosive off the ball.”
On paper, Missouri seems like an ideal opponent for the Mountaineers to get their ground legs back. The Tigers allowed 297 rushing yards to Wyoming in their Week 1 loss. The tape, however, shows it’s unlikely West Virginia is going to use the Cowboys’ blueprint.
Former North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl finally has the personnel for his kind of football in Laramie, Wyo., which means power. Wyoming used a lot of two tight-end sets against Missouri and even put three tight ends into the game on multiple occasions.
Wyoming’s quarterback is an integral part of the run game, gaining 120 of those yards. West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall doesn’t have those kind of wheels.
“That personnel, we don’t really have. A running quarterback and that many tight ends,” Brown said. “Exactly how they ran the ball and how we can run the ball don’t necessarily match up.”
Fatigue was also a factor for Mizzou’s defense. Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium has the highest elevation in Division I at 7,200 feet. WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, a former Wyoming coach, has already warned Brown that the Tigers are going to have more gas in Week 2 than their Week 1 tape indicates.
“He’s seen teams come in and get winded pretty easily,” Moore said. “But the guys in Wyoming just did a good job of blocking them. They did exactly what we want to do. We’ve got to do the same thing.”
Brown said the WVU offense was purposely vanilla in its first game, which is typically the case. He expects the second game to be a better gauge of what the Mountaineers should actually look like this season.
“One of the things you try to do offensively is give some different presentations,” Brown said. “You want to give the defense an understanding of what they think’s coming and cross that up a little bit. We did a lot of work on Missouri over the summer. We looked at some personnel and what they did versus Wyoming, and added to that game plan.”