Deep stable of running backs helps West Virginia deal with injuries
MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Whether it's Rushel Shell, Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy or Martell Pettaway, the West Virginia Mountaineers are almost guaranteed to have someone in the backfield who can put together a big game.
Now, with the running back corps' health still under question heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Baylor, coach Dana Holgorsen isn't worried at all about which of his four backs will be ready to play.
“At this point, who cares?,” Holgorsen said. “Whoever goes in there is going to play good. What does it really matter? We have four different backs who have had a 100-yard game. Having four capable bodies, plus Skyler (Howard), plus Eli (Wellman) makes our backfield healthy.”
Shell, a senior, has been listed as the starter all season but is still suffering from a high ankle sprain that has limited him to one carry over the past four games. True freshman Kennedy McKoy has also been reduced to brief cameos in the last two games, and although hobbled by a leg injury Saturday against Iowa State, he scored a touchdown in one of his two touches.
On Saturday, Crawford, the team's leading rusher, was added to the crew of injured backs when he left with an ankle injury after seven carries. That forced WVU to burn true freshman Martell Pettaway's redshirt, and he responded with 181 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown.
As the Mountaineers look ahead to their meeting with Baylor, the makeup of the backfield is once again uncertain — Holgorsen refused to rule anyone out Tuesday, noting he hadn't ruled anyone out before Iowa State either.
But Pettaway's emergence means the Mountaineers are comfortable with whoever is good to go, in what WVU coaches say is a testament to the character of the players in that unit.
“We recruited well at first, we got the right kids in here, and we got the kids that bought in,” running backs coach JaJuan Seider said. “They pay attention throughout the week, they focus in the meeting rooms, they take good notes and we put them in situations to be successful and they take advantage of it.”
Although Holgorsen and Seider say who will get the carries will be determined by the week of practice, Holgorsen was willing to rule out one offensive player: starting wide receiver Ka'Raun White, who is out for the season after suffering a broken bone in his lower right leg Saturday.
White finishes the year with 48 receptions for 583 yards and five touchdowns, including a 34-yard score against the Cyclones. According to WVU's depth chart, the next man up behind White at “Z” receiver is senior Devonte Mathis, who has three catches for 46 yards this season.
“(White) was having a good year,” Holgorsen said. “But the good news is he'll get healthy, come back and have a great spring.”
David Statman is a freelance writer.