MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In his weekly press conferences, Neal Brown is often a man of many words. Over the past year and a half, media members have come to expect detailed and expansive answers on any aspect of the game of football. On Tuesday however in Brown’s weekly pregame Zoom call, the head coach offered just three words to the question, “Do you think your run game is improved?”
“We better be,” Brown said.
And truth be told, it couldn’t be much worse. You have probably heard the numbers and seen the stats from Brown’s first season. Last fall the Mountaineers ranked 128th out of 130 Division I teams in rushing yards per game. They had only seven rushing touchdowns, which was the second-lowest total in the country.
So how can the Mountaineers be more effective on the ground? Leading rusher Leddie Brown returns and he earned consistent praise from Coach Brown throughout preseason training camp. Leddie rushed for 367 yards and a touchdown in 2019. Returners Alex Sinkfield and Tony Mathis, Jr. also saw snaps last season.
New offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is hoping to draw from past experience to help build a respectable rushing attack.
“One of the biggest growths for me in my coaching career was when I was elected interim (head coach) at Purdue (in 2016),” Parker said. “During that time we didn’t have a great run game. And during those six weeks, I told myself that if I ever got an opportunity to have any say so or whatever it was, I realized our struggles in not being able to run the football consistently and how it affected our team. I think at that point, I was like, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what the handoffs look like, but you have to find ways as a play caller’.
“We expect us to go out and play at a high level and complete the football well. And we expect there to be a high effort and improvement in our run game.”
Much of the responsibility falls on an offensive line that is breaking in a pair of new tackles but returns a solid core in the middle of the line, led by returning starters James Gmiter, Mike Brown and Chase Behrndt. Gmiter’s expectations for the O-Line are lofty.
“Our goal from last season, all through the offseason to Saturday, is going to be the most improved offensive line in the country. And I truly believe that we will be.” Gmiter said.
“I realized our struggles last year running the ball. But I really believe that this offseason, our buy-in from our group in general is a lot higher than it was last year. We had some guys last year that kind of just were there. But this year, we have no egos. We have a really good group. Our entire starting line all the way back to our third-string, have put in a lot of work to improve.”
If the Mountaineers are able to climb the ladder in the Big 12 Conference in Neal Brown’s second season, their rushing attack must become viable to compliment a strong group of receivers around new signal caller Jarret Doege.