West Virginia looking at backfield utilization

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown prioritizes the optimization of his running back room.

When facing Houston, the Mountaineers utilized three different backs, distributing the snaps among CJ Donaldson (49), Jaheim White (18), and Jaylen Anderson (18).

This decision was the result of a successful practice week where all three backs performed well. Position coach Chad Scott wanted to determine who was in the best form.

Additionally, Junior Justin Johnson, the fourth member of the group, did not travel as he had been absent from practice due to illness.

Scott shared, “I wanted to keep them fresh and assess their performance early on.”

In the first half, West Virginia accomplished some success, but they encountered challenges in the second half as the Cougars focused on limiting their running game. Ultimately, the numbers were underwhelming, with 25 carries for 93 yards, but there were still opportunities present.

Related: Brown discusses Oklahoma State and adjustments on weekly show

During the passing game, Anderson allowed a deflected pass to be intercepted in the end zone, while both Donaldson and White missed chances on the ground.

Improving the blocking to create better running lanes is part of the solution. However, the Mountaineers also need to execute smart plays by making the right reads.

Scott admitted, “We failed to make plays that we should have made in the second half.”

This season, Donaldson has been the primary running back with 103 out of the 181 rush attempts, accumulating 414 yards and five touchdowns. He has displayed impressive strength, with 281 yards gained after contact and 14 missed tackles forced.

However, West Virginia needs to find more dependable options behind him.

White has shown moments of brilliance with his speed, but he must prioritize his physical well-being in order to consistently exhibit his burst, which impressed the coaching staff during training camp. On the other hand, Anderson has only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, with a longest run of just 15 yards.

Brown expressed, “We need those other guys to contribute.”

As part of this strategy, Brown acknowledged the possibility of reducing the rotation in the backfield to allow Donaldson and his supporting running back to establish a rhythm.

West Virginia will have another opportunity to excel in the ground game against Oklahoma State. However, if opponents are determined to halt the running plays, the Mountaineers are more than willing to rely on their passing game.

Nevertheless, West Virginia aims to effectively run the football, and finding dependable options to assist Donaldson is crucial for future success.


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