WVU back to full strength at running back
CHARLESTON — Prior to Thursday’s game against Baylor, a 58-14 wipeout, it had been a long time since the West Virginia University football team had its full complement of running backs.
Freshman Alec Sinkfield was injured in an early-September game against Youngstown State and was forced out of action. He dressed last time out against Iowa State and got his first carry in almost two months in the win against the Baylor Bears. Fellow freshman Leddie Brown didn’t play in the loss to the Cyclones either, but he was back for Baylor.
Sinkfield and Brown, along with sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, make up what has become a four-man committee in the Mountaineer backfield. The hope is that with all four players available, the running game will start to click on a more consistent basis.
There have been flashes for the group on occasion. McKoy, Pettaway, Brown and Sinkfield have all had their moments so far in 2018.
It was Pettaway’s turn Thursday against Baylor. The pass game was rolling early against the Bears but the run game was struggling to find that big hitter before Pettaway broke free for a 33-yard touchdown. Sinkfield got involved in the passing game, taking a screen for a 31-yard gain.
“At the beginning (against Baylor) they were playing heavy run boxes so we were getting a lot of those cheap plays to (tight end Travon) Wesco and Marcus (Simms) and David (Sills) out there on the perimeter,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “You saw that early. Then when we had time to get it going, I thought they did a really good job. It was great to see Pettaway hit a home-run shot. That’s what we’ve been looking for and missing. You saw Kennedy hit one early that was on a holding play.
“You add Sink on top of that who hit the screen for 30 or 40 yards. You just enjoy seeing those kids start hitting those explosive plays. Leddie brings that whole downhill mentality that’s tough to stop.”
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said the Mountaineers need all of those players to be ready when it is their turn to get the ball.
“All of those guys need to be involved,” Holgorsen said. “Pettaway looked as good as I’ve seen him look. He broke through, stuck his toe in the ground, made a safety miss and scored. All four bring something to the table. The good news is we don’t have to rely on just one of them. We’re a running-back-by-committee team and all of those guys bring a little something different to the table. It’s nice to have all those guys healthy.”
Add sophomore Tevin Bush to that group too after his 79-yard sprint against Baylor to set up a 1-yard Will Grier touchdown run.
“It was good to get all those kids back to the rhythm of things because we’re going to need them all when we hit this November stretch,” Spavital said.
BACK ON TRACK: Grier appeared to get back on track in the win against Baylor after a couple of subpar performances.
Grier completed 17 of 27 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns while running for another touchdown and, perhaps most importantly, did not turn the ball over.
“I thought he was solid, I really did,” Holgorsen said. “He managed it well. The thing I liked about it is we had a whole bunch of people touch the ball. There were a lot of guys that went in there and touched the ball. He’s spreading the ball around a lot.
“He did a good job of preparing all week and made a lot of good checks at the line of scrimmage, which is one that he does great. (He) threw completions, managed it well and brought a lot of energy. I was really proud of how he played.”
ALLISON FILLS IN: Mountaineer fans also got a glimpse of backup quarterback Jack Allison on Thursday. Grier came out of the game late in the third quarter, and from that point on it was Allison’s game.
He was not too shabby.
The Miami transfer finished 4 of 4 for 43 yards and hit receiver Gary Jennings for a 36-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought (Allison) went out there and threw the ball well,” Holgorsen said. “I wouldn’t recommend having him keeping his own reads. He about got split in half, but as far as sitting in the pocket I thought he looked good and I know he can do that.”
Holgorsen was referencing a play when Allison kept the ball on the read before getting hit hard by the Baylor defense. Allison was fine, but Holgorsen wasn’t the only one who noticed the hit.
“I (liked what I saw) except for the run,” Spavital said with a laugh. “That was actually quite humorous.”
AUSTIN VISITS: West Virginia had a special guest on the sideline Thursday in former Mountaineer great and current Dallas Cowboys receiver Tavon Austin and he was a welcome sight to Mountaineers fans and players.
The Milan Puskar Stadium crowd roared when they showed Austin on the stadium video boards, and WVU paid homage with a play made famous by the former first-round NFL draft pick — the touch pass.
“Tavon was hilarious on the sidelines,” Spavital said. “We talked earlier this week and he said he just wanted to show up and I think the kids got pretty fired up when they saw him in the locker room and saw him on the sideline. (Austin) has got a lot of energy and it brought back some good memories. It’s fun to have him around and he kept talking about some of those plays tonight.
“The first play to Gary (Jennings for a 53-yard touchdown), he was wanting to know why Holgs hadn’t ran that with him before. It was good to have Tavon around.”
NO. 12 WVU (6-1) AT NO. 15 TEXAS (6-1)
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Texas Memorial Stadium Austin, Texas
RADIO: WWQB 102.3-FM