WVU’s running game ground to a halt: Again

The emergence of Jarret Doege the past two weeks as West Virginia’s new and future starting quarterback is the brightest spot for an offensive season full of bleak darkness. The fact that Doege has played like someone worthy of being a Big 12 starter checks off a huge box in first-year coach Neal Brown’s offensive to-do list transitioning past this season into the next.

However, if Brown doesn’t find a way to improve – significantly – the Mountaineers non-existent running game, then Doege’s array of competence will be for not.

Coming into the season, West Virginia was littered with inexperience and question marks at quarterback, receiver and offensive line. The one area where the Mountaineers seemed to have some solid returning performers was at running back. Kennedy McKoy. Leddie Brown. Martell Pettaway. Alec Sinkfield. All were expected to combine to give West Virginia a deep and talented running game.

That was the expectation. The reality? Yikes.

It’s hard to overstate how bad West Virginia is at running the ball. WVU ranks 129th out of 130 FCS teams in team rushing yards, averaging 72.1 yards a game. Sophomore Leddie Brown leads the team with 320 yards on the ground. Contrast that with OSU’s leading rusher. Chuba Hubbard has run for 1,832 yards, more than double West Virginia – as a team.

Modern football is passing centric. College football even more so than the NFL, and the Big 12 even more than that. But to have a modicum of offensive success, you must to be able to run – at least a little.

WVU’s 20-13 loss to Oklahoma State was a microcosm of this dilemma. Doege was good Saturday. He threw for 308 yards on 28-for-38 passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. But despite this effort, the Mountaineers scored just 13 points. When your quarterback throws for more than 300 yards without an interception, you should score more than 13 points. But here we are.

West Virginia ran the ball 22 times Saturday. For 26 yards. If the Mountaineers had run a quarterback sneak 22 times, they probably would have tallied more than 26 yards. It’s unfathomable how anemic WVU’s rushing game was/is.

This isn’t a one-game problem, as evidenced by the Mountaineers paltry season totals. It’s not totally a case of underachieving backs (partially, not totally). The inexperienced and struggling offensive line is an at least equal contributor.

But whether it’s the line, the backs, the schematics, or a combination, Brown needs to fix it. If he doesn’t, what was once a one-game problem that became a one-season problem could become an albatross that drowns his offense.