New Toys In The Box For WVU Offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A week ago, West Virginia unveiled a new-look offense that included some new toys in the form of tight ends, with a cannon that was attached to the shoulder of quarterback Will Grier, a couple of old teddy bears in the former of wide receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings and a new playmate for them in the form of T.J. Simmons.
But, perhaps, the best new plaything for coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was an eight-legged octopus of a running game that promises to have fresh legs in the game at all times, each with his own skill set to take advantage of any circumstance.
The result of that unveiling was a rather efficient 40-14 victory over SEC opponent Tennessee in Charlotte, N.C., which leads us to Week 2 of the 2018 season and one of the year’s most festive events, the home opener, which brings Youngstown State, a traditional lower-classification power, into Milan Puskar Stadium for a 6 p.m. start, airing on AT&T SportsNet.
The game will feature a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the 1988 team that played for the national championship following an unbeaten regular season, a team like this one that had a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Major Harris.
Harris, like Grier, was the centerpiece but that team, too, had a devastating running game of which Harris was a big part but which also included a number of solid running backs.
What unfolded last week was an interesting twist through the running game on this year’s offense, beginning with the surprise that Martell Pettaway was the starting back.
Holgorsen had kept the competition between Pettaway, Kennedy McKoy, Alec Sinkfield and freshman Leddie Brown a closely guarded secret, without even tipping his hand to the four backs until the night before the game.
“He told us the week before he’d tell us the night before the game, so we were anticipating it,” Pettaway revealed.
“He just brought us in together after our last team meeting and said, ‘I’m going to start with you.’”
Certainly there was a sense of honor that came with the distinction of being the starting running back … in a way a just reward for his unselfishness two years back as a freshman. Pettaway had been ticketed to redshirt and was third-string late in the season when, all of a sudden, the running backs ahead of him went down early against Iowa State.
In a way, using him then cost him a year’s eligibility, for by playing he lost his redshirt status, unlike today with a new rule that allows a freshman to play four games before losing his redshirt.
“Coach came up to me and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, ‘I’m the last resort, so might as well,’” Pettaway recalled. “I didn’t think I was going to play that season. It just had to happen. Everyone else was hurt.”
He went in, toted the ball 30 times for 181 yards. The next week, against Baylor, he carried 16 times for 63 yards and then played briefly in the bowl loss to Miami.
Last year, he carried in every game but two but failed to get as much yardage as he had in his debut, but WVU knew it had a player filled with potential in Pettaway … as well as with the other backs.
The competition to start was intense and friendly.
“We didn’t really talk about it,” Pettaway said. “We made some jokes about it, about who’s starting, but there was no serious conversation. You know, someone messes up and you say, ‘You’re really not going to start now’ and we’d laugh.”
The thing that keeps it from being too sensitive is because all of them are going to play, each offering something different.
Pettaway is probably the best runner, McKoy the most versatile, who went into the game late and immediately caught a touchdown on a swing pass, Sinkfield, the redshirt freshman, the most likely to break away and Brown, the true freshman, a banger who impressed in his first appearance.
“They reacted well to playing the first game. They did well for their first game. That’s what I like to see,” Pettaway said of the young backs.
The depth really helped in the North Carolina heat.
“It just kept us fresh. We needed that. It was hot. They were getting tired on defense. So, we just kept rotating while they were tired. It helped us a lot,” Pettaway said.
Now they will try to build on that against Youngstown, a team that lost its opener to Butler.
Spavital feels they need work.
“The thing that is hard about it is we only had 61 snaps (against Tennessee). So, you’re not going to get those kids the right amount of touches, which is naturally going to play out over the course of the season,” he said.
“But you have to go with a guy, and if he has the hot hand, then you have to stay with it. It really is putting the pressure on that room. When they have the opportunity to perform by playing, it’ll get to the point where we won’t take you out of the game.
“We’re going to utilize all of these (running) backs. You can see that we’re going to try and get it to all of them. They all ended up having certain touches at certain point of the game. That’s going to increase based off having more opportunity.”