Football, Sports, WVU Sports

The quarterback is healthy, the running backs are going and WVU’s offense is off to the races

MORGANTOWN — Early on this season, West Virginia’s offense looked like it was going to be a clunker. The Mountaineers weren’t explosive, weren’t efficient and were scoring just enough to barely scrape by teams.

Since the off week, however, WVU’s offense has been a revelation. In their last four games, the Mountaineers are averaging 37.8 points and 509.5 yards per game. They’re coming off their best game of the season, a 37-7 drubbing of BYU where they racked up 567 total yards.

“We continue to play at a high level,” head coach Neal Brown said. “That’s several games in a row now that we’re doing that.”

Prior to the off week, WVU was averaging just 17 points and 279.5 yards against FBS competition.

“We’ve really played at a high level since then,” Brown said. “We’ve been more read in the run game, we’ve been more perimeter-oriented as far as getting some receivers involved and we’re throwing the ball downfield better.”

Looking back in hindsight, WVU’s offense was never truly that bad, the Mountaineers were just victims of circumstance.

Brown said he thought the offense’s breakout was going to come in game three against Pitt, but starting quarterback Garrett Greene left with an injury just five plays in.

“For Pitt, I really felt that we were going to take off,” Brown said. “We had a great week of practice, I felt like that was going to be Garrett’s coming out party and then he gets hurt on play four or five. Nicco (Marchiol) hadn’t got a ton of reps because Garrett’s in his first year starting.”

Marchiol made his first career start the following week, but Brown kept the training wheels on him a bit to try and avoid injury.

“We don’t have anyone that’s played in a game behind him,” Brown said. “So you really take out a lot of your read game because you don’t want to put the quarterback in jeopardy of getting hurt.”

Then just as the offense was getting comfortable with Marchiol, he sprained his ankle in practice and Greene was thrust back in on short notice on the road at TCU.

“Garrett didn’t really practice and then he’s going to play on Thursday and I didn’t really know what we had,” Brown said.

After that, however, WVU had its off week, Greene got fully healthy and the offense found its rhythm. 

“We’ve probably played pretty good since the bye week and it’s as much health as anything,” Brown said. “(Greene) gives us a chance. He’s a really good player and he gives us a chance week in and week out.”

In the last four games, Greene is averaging 310.8 yards of total offense and has scored 11 total touchdowns with just two interceptions. Those games include a 391-yard passing day, a 117-yard rushing day and a three rushing touchdown performance.

“If I have to carry the ball 30 times for us to win I’ll do it,” Greene said. “If I have to hand the ball off to Jahiem (White), CJ (Donaldson) and all those guys, I’ll do it. I have no problem, the main thing is winning.”

The offense got another boost two weeks ago when Donaldson and White, the top two running backs, both broke out of a month-long cold streak.

Donaldson had not run for more than 66 yards in a game for four games before he rushed for 121 two weeks ago against UCF. He followed that up with 102 yards on Saturday against BYU.

“It was part confidence,” Brown said. “What was happening when he went through that stretch was he was really pressing. People were playing him differently and he was leaving a lot of yards out there. Really last week and this week, he just went back to the basic things of setting up his runs, not being impatient, using his blockers and lowering his pads on contact.”

Donaldson has scored a touchdown in all but one game this season and with two scores against the Cougars, has found the endzone in seven straight games.

White, a freshman, wasn’t even getting on the field, receiving just 13 carries in five games before busting out for 85 yards against UCF. He then got his largest workload of the season, 16 carries, and ran for a career-high 146 yards against BYU.

“I think this game is really hard to play as a true freshman and that’s why you don’t see it a whole lot,” Brown said. “The guys that we’ve had, (offensive linemen) Zach Frazier and Wyatt Milum, that played a lot of football as true freshmen, they’re usually pretty special. He’s got a chance to be special.”

The team’s 567 total yards against BYU were the most in a game against an FBS opponent since 2018 and the 362 rushing yards were the most since 2016.

“We really put in the work,” White said. “That’s all it really is at practice. Coach Brown and Coach (Chad) Scott were really on us and what we do at practice and we tried to make it possible.”

WVU will look to continue its offensive success this week on the road at Oklahoma (7 p.m./FOX). The Sooners’ defense ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring (19.8 points per game) and seventh in yards (382.6). It was against the Sooners that Greene made his starting debut last year, a 23-20 WVU victory.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way just from a leadership standpoint,” he said. “From an offensive standpoint, our offense is a hell of a lot better than we were playing against them last year.”