May 29, 2024

West Virginia Running Backs Looking To Build On Success

West Virginia Running Backs Looking to Build on Success

This Spring, the West Virginia running backs will be looking to build on their success, while those who sit behind CJ Donaldson and Jahiem White on the depth chart seek to solidify their position on the depth chart. Donaldson has been participating in Spring drills with a limited contact jersey, though universal reports from the two open portions of practice suggest Donaldson’s recovery from post-season surgery is going as well as can be expected.

Presumably, White has been taking the majority of the snaps with the starters. White, of course, broke out in a big way in 2023. Named to several freshman All-American teams after last season, White had one of the best statistical seasons for a freshman running back in the last couple of decades. Averaging nearly eight yards per carry while amassing 109 rushes will do that. The question for White remains: is that success repeatable? That question acts as a fundamental measuring stick for the offense as a whole, too. Head Coach Neal Brown wants to run the ball and control the clock on offense. In 2023, his offense ran the ball 63% of the time. In games the Mountaineers won, they averaged a whopping 252 yards on the ground. WVU still averaged an impressive 176 yards on the ground in their losses, but that 250-yard mark carries some significance.

In the most recent open practice, the Mountaineers trotted out walk-on true freshman Clay Ash with the first team as White sat out of the open session. Ash joins the Mountaineers from IMG Academy’s “white” team where he averaged over 10 yards per carry in his senior season. Among the West Virginia running backs, Ash may be the least seasoned of the bunch. That said, he fits well into a long line of unheralded running backs who have joined the Mountaineers and surprised both insiders and outsiders. After all, Donaldson came to Morgantown as a tight end, and White had virtually no expectations heading into the 2023 season. If the staff continues to rest White, Ash may have plenty of opportunities to climb his way up the depth chart.

What About Anderson?

Among the four West Virginia running backs with the team for Spring practice, junior Jaylen Anderson remains the biggest head-scratcher. Offensive coordinator Chad Scott spoke to the media in earnest about Anderson earlier this Spring. He said that Anderson struggled in prior years to fulfill his potential by failing to develop strong practice habits. Scott said he has talked with Anderson about this, and Anderson appears to have received the message. Maybe Ash running with the first team in the recent open session is meant to offer Anderson additional motivation. After all, West Virginia brought in two more running backs in the 2024 class who joined the team this Summer. Scott certainly welcomes the competition in the running back room. Perhaps Anderson slipped back into some of those bad habits after watching Justin Johnson and DJ Oliver transfer.

Anderson has enjoyed some limited success in Morgantown. Indeed, as a redshirt freshman in 2022, Anderson averaged just shy of eight yards per carry and found the end zone twice. Last season, however, Anderson regressed some, running the ball 44 times and averaging just over three yards a carry. If Anderson can find his level and offer the Mountaineers a steady hand among Donaldson and White, he may entrench himself as the third option on a run-heavy team. If he does not overcome the bad habits Scott referred to, then we may see him use the portal to find a better opportunity. The remainder of Spring should tell us plenty about how his story will progress.

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