MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When it comes to running the ball, running back by committee has made it difficult for opposing defenses to gameplan around one specific player. This year will be no different for head coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer backfield. With three major contributors returning from last season, the running backs have arguably the most talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Justin Crawford, the 2016 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, impressed the Mountaineer faithful in 13 games last season, rushing for 1,184 yards. After supplanting Rushel Shell from the predominant ball carrier role, we saw Crawford excel in his place. Crawford often displayed his versatility, running between the tackles as well as being able to get around the edge and turn up field. In limited opportunities, Crawford proved himself to be a capable pass catcher out of the backfield with 14 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In this year’s spring game the senior from Columbus, GA picked up where he left off last season, rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown on six carries. Crawford is due for another big year, and look for him to double his touchdown total of four from last season.
Behind Crawford will be sophomore Kennedy McKoy. After a memorable true freshman season, McKoy looks to be what Shell was to Wendell Smallwood, a nightmare to opposing defenses. McKoy, in his freshman campaign, rushed for 483 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries. Very productive for a third-string running back.
With McKoy moving up the depth chart and Holgorsen’s ability to divide the carries, look for those numbers to increase. McKoy is great at shedding tacklers and is good in the open field because of his vision. McKoy is also a capable pass catcher out of the backfield, pulling in nine receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.
You can expect Martell Pettaway to get a small share of carries in the third-string tailback role. The sophomore did not have as a productive of a year as McKoy in his true freshman season, but stepped up when the backfield was ravaged with injuries last season. The sophomore, in three games, rushed for 268 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries last season. Of that rushing total, 181 yards and a touchdown came against Iowa State, one of the best debuts for a WVU running back.
Paving a way for the tailbacks at the fullback position will be redshirt-senior Elijah Wellman. The Huntington, WV native played in all 13 games for the Mountaineers a year ago, serving as a fullback and tight end. Although seldom, Wellman is efficient when needed in the pass and run game on short down plays. Plan for him to open the next level for Crawford and McKoy, and keep quarterback Will Grier clean.
Player to watch: Tevin Bush, in the event of injury the early enrollee from New Orleans, LA could step in and see some carries.
(Feature Photo Credit: Shanna Rose/BGS)