Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU football notebook: Fixing running game a process; Darius Stills returns for senior year

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a week to digest the 2019 season, coach Neal Brown hasn’t changed his mind about West Virginia’s biggest problem — the running game.

There are no quick answers on how to repair a rushing attack that averaged a poor 2.63 yards per carry (129 out of 130 teams) and tallied just 879 total yards as a team (128th). It was apparent early the running game was going to struggle after abysmal performances against James Madison and Missouri to open the season, and it never got any better.

The way to fix it, in Brown’s opinion, was near impossible midseason.

“There’s a recruiting piece and a development piece,” Brown said during his season wrap-up news conference Friday. “The development piece is critical. We have to get stronger, especially at the interior of the offensive line. Some of that is through time and youth, which could solve that.”

Technique, strength, pad level and explosiveness are keys to getting better along the offensive line, which Brown said will be a main focus during the offseason. Running backs also need to improve finish runs and running better in space.

With Leddie Brown, Martell Pettaway, Alec Sinkfield and Tony Mathis returning, there is once again a wealth of experience in the backfield, but the line needs to get better, especially since the Mountaineers will also need to break in two new tackles, replacing Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline.

Haskins in transfer portal

Tight end Jovani Haskins entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal, which doesn’t guarantee he will leave the team, but he can be contacted by other coaches.

Haskins saw his role drastically decrease as the season went on, being replaced by redshirt freshman Mike O’Laughlin in the starting lineup. Haskins finished the season with four catches for just 18 yards.

“I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him yet, but Jovani entered the portal [Friday],” Brown said.

Haskins also had several off the field issues — he pleaded guilty to reckless driving and entered a deferred guilty plea to fleeing from an officer at the end of July in Morgantown.

Brown also said Adam Stilley, a sophomore center from Martinsburg, will also look to transfer. Stilley is a former walk-on that is looking to play at another level.

“We’re supportive of Adam — he wants to play and he’s been nothing but great here,” Brown said. “He worked hard, so I support him in that endeavor.”

George Campbell back?

Wide receiver George Campbell exploded onto the scene this season as one of West Virginia’s most reliable threats in the passing game, hauling in 19 passes for 469 yards and seven touchdowns.

After battling injuries his entire career at Florida State, Campbell transferred to WVU for his final collegiate season, but Brown said Campbell applied for a sixth year of eligibility with the NCAA — now it’s a waiting game.

“He’s applied and we’re pretty certain that he’ll be approved,” Brown said. “Now, it’s really going to be a decision for him — kind of like a junior, will he come out or will he not come out (to the NFL draft). We thought it was going to be a one-year deal, and he exceeded expectations.”

Campbell was second on the team in community service hours and also played all four phases of special teams. Brown said Campbell showed more development in a shorter period than any receiver he’s ever coached and could continue to get better if he stayed one more year, but is supportive about whatever Campbell decides to do.

However, Campbell did post a farewell message to WVU fans on his Instagram on Friday morning:

“Thank you Mountaineer nation, I am forever grateful. This has been a great experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. It’s time to start a new chapter in my life and I pray God continues to guide me and allow my story to impact others. Peace & Blessings.”

Darius Stills’ returning

Defensive lineman Darius Stills has flirted with entering the NFL draft after a stellar junior season. The Fairmont native was named all-Big 12 first team after finishing with seven sacks 15 tackles for loss.

Stills announced Friday he was coming back to WVU for his senior season.

“After talking with God and my family, I have decided to forgo the 2020 NFL draft and return for my senior season,” Stills tweeted. “I am excited for what the 2020 season has in store for coach Neal Brown and for the team. Let’s get to work! Trust the climb!”

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