The West Virginia Mountaineers were one of the worst rushing teams in all of college football – ranked 127th out of 130 teams in Division I – averaging only 77.0 yards per game. To put this in perspective, the Mountaineers only had more rushing yards on the season than Texas State, Washington State and Akron.
Most of the blame fell on West Virginia’s offensive line, but the reality is that the Mountaineers’ offensive front was actually quite talented. Colton McKivitz, recent 5th round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2020 NFL Draft, Josh Sills, who was hampered with injuries throughout the season and transferred to Oklahoma State in the offseason, Chase Behrndt, a talent albeit inexperienced center, Kelby Wickline, an experienced redshirt senior and Michael Brown, a raw player with tremendous strength and upside.
The offensive line was not the problem. They were far from perfect, but other factors were far more detrimental in the running game.
1. Neal Brown’s Play Calls: Brown, in his first year as the coach of the Mountaineers, was far too cautious with his play-calling. Brown had a plan prior to the season and he didn’t make the needed adjustments. His failed attempts at running the Zone Read offense was the primary reason that the West Virginia run game struggled. The personnel from last season’s team was not conducive to the Zone Read and this strategy should have be scrapped immediately.
2. Austin Kendall at Quarterback: Austin Kendall, the starter for the bulk of the season, was certainly not a Zone Read quarterback. The Zone read requires a quarterback that can keep the ball and run. Otherwise, the defense is able to key on the running back every single play. This is precisely what happened with the ultra-talented Kennedy McKoy during his senior season last year. If Brown insisted on playing Kendall, he should have gone to an offense more compatible with his skillset.
3. Wide Receiver Blocking Downfield: It had to have been an extremely frustrating season for the West Virginia wide receivers last year. Although that group is young and talented, they dropped an awful lot of passes, were overthrown on even more passes, and their blocking suffered mightily. Often, wide receivers not catching a lot of passes do not give the same effort in the blocking game as receivers who are getting a ton of catches.
It turns out that I was absolutely right throughout the season when I said that the Mountaineers’ run game was not the fault of the offensive line or the core of talented running backs. It was the game plan, it was the wrong quarterback in the wrong offense, and it was the poor downfield blocking from the wide receivers.