Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Running back quartet of Mathis, Dixon, Johnson, Anderson a talented group, WVU coach Neal Brown believes

MORGANTOWN — Replacing a running back who amassed 2,888 yards and 27 touchdowns in his career seems like no small task, but WVU head coach Neal Brown likes what he has to as the Mountaineers look to move on from Leddie Brown.

“This is the best room we’ve had, top-down talent wise,” Brown said last week as WVU opened spring practice. “I really like the leadership Tony Mathis is showing.”

Mathis appears to be the favorite to replace Leddie Brown — Mathis ran for over 100 yards in the regular-season finale at Kansas and earned the start in the bowl game against Minnesota after Brown opted to prepare for the NFL draft.

Mathis (5-foot-11, 206 pounds) is a hard, aggressive runner who can run between the tackles, as he’s shown several times the last three seasons, but it’s the rest of the backfield that remains a mystery, despite Neal Brown’s optimism.

Justin Johnson (5-11, 195), a sophomore, played sparingly as a true freshman last season, finishing with 24 carries for 90.

The remaining two in the expected rotation — Lyn-J Dixon (5-10, 188) and Jaylen Anderson (5-11, 218) — are intriguing options.

Dixon is a graduate transfer from Clemson and is expected to supply a “Yin and Yang” effort with Mathis. As a true freshman at Clemson in 2018, Dixon averaged 8.8 yards per carry, fifth best in the nation, helping the Tigers win the national championship.

The following season, Dixon had 635 yards on 104 carries with six touchdowns, as well as 14 catches for 121 yards.

His production started to dip in 2020, and then he was eligible to redshirt after only playing in three games last year, ultimately decided to finish his career at WVU with two years of eligibility remaining.

“He can run, he’s fast,” Brown said, bluntly.

Anderson was a 4-star prospect out of high school in 2021, but due to NCAA Clearing House issues, was a late enrollee before last season, joining the team in late August. With the late arrival, he did not play at all last season.

With an offseason under his belt, Brown is excited to see if Anderson can live up to his lofty recruiting profile.

“Jalen Anderson is extremely talented,” Brown said. “He’s a natural runner, he looks effortless out there. He’s got high football intelligence.”

New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, best known for his huge passing numbers as a quarterback under coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid, assures fans the running game will not be abandoned and the running game will be a big part of his offense.

“For two days, for being in shorts and helmets, I think they’ve done a really good job,” Harrell said. “Every time they touched the ball something positive happened.

“They put their heads down and work, and because of that, I think they’re going to be really good.”