Downhill Runner Trying To Seize Opportunities In Spring
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Every spring looms large, according to Martell Pettaway.
But this one is gigantic for the junior-to-be, who splashed onto the scene late as a freshman and seemed primed for a breakout sophomore season. But despite 268 yards on 49 carries over just three games, Pettaway received just 43 carries last year, and never got more than seven touches from the backfield against any one opponent. That was in stark contrast to his coming out against Iowa State in 2016, when the Detroit native carried 30 times for 181 yards and a score.
Fast forward some 16 months later, and Pettaway is working within a tweaked offense that is trying to find more efficiency. That would seem to lend itself more toward the power back’s game as a downhill runner who can get behind pads and push the pile in short yardage situations. Add that in with the departure of two-time 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford, and the time is now for Pettaway.
“Critical downs. We talk about that a lot,” Pettaway said. “Third and shorts, fourth and shorts. We need them. It’s being able to not turn the ball over as much as we did. Be able to have good drives every time we get the ball. Not so much explosive plays, though we have an explosive offense. I think that keys into my game, those third and shorts, fourth and shorts.”
With the move of the 6-foot-3, 263-pound Trevon Wesco to fullback from a more pure tight end position, the Mountaineers have trended away from its big time, feast-or-famine passing game in an effort to develop greater consistency. With Pettaway’s 5-9, 208-pound frame that creates a natural leverage and Wesco’s new Elijah Wellman- like role, WVU might have the backfield horses to better sustain drives.
“Spring ball is really important,” Pettaway said. “It’s a good time to go watch the film and see what you need to correct and get your game better. During the season you don’t have that time. It’s time to get that done.”
Of course, being a running back, Pettaway was as focused on trying to create big plays while staying within West Virginia’s scheme when the Mountaineers held their first full contact session of the spring on Saturday. Pettaway said he shook loose a handful of times, and really wanted to work on properly setting up linebackers for larger gains.
“It was a good feeling out there for some contact,” said Pettaway, whose longest rush last season was 17 yards versus Virginia Tech in the opener. “I was trying to work on my second-level game, getting into that second level and showing a few moves. I could have had a few more home runs than I had, but I did a little something.”
Pettaway is working under his third running backs coach in as many years after the departure of Ja’Juan Seider to Florida before the 2016 season and Tony Dews to the NFL this past offseason. WVU signed Marquel Blackwell, a Florida native who most recently coached at Toledo, as RBs coach, and Pettaway noticed an immediate difference in the approach and teaching style.
“Coach Black is not as rowdy as who we had last year,” Pettaway said. “If you mess up, he will tell you, but then go straight into teaching. If you mess up more than once, he’ll maybe yell. He looks at every little aspect of the game and he will tell you what to do footwork-wise, ball security, everything with technique.”
Pettaway was asked how much more the running backs pay attention to that technique aspect of play under Blackwell, who has a soft-spoken style that can speak volumes in results, the assistant helping lead Toledo to the top rushing attack in the Mid-American conference at more than 200 yards per game to go with an 11-3 record and the conference title.
“A lot more actually,” Pettaway said of the emphasis on technique. “They pick it up on film. You see a lot more that you didn’t use to see, so a lot more now because he is there looking at everything you do to try to correct it. It makes you a better film watcher. The way he watches film with us helps us with our game a lot more than in previous years.”