By TOM BRAGG
MORGANTOWN - When the West Virginia University running backs start getting heavily involved in the No. 6 Mountaineers' offense, and not just in the running game, good things tend to follow.
Take Saturday's win against visiting Kansas for example.
WVU opened the scoring on a 15-yard pass to freshman running back Leddie Brown, who caught the ball out of the backfield and dove for the pylon to score. Then, on the final play of the third quarter, quarterback Will Grier hit sophomore running back Martell Pettaway on a swing pass out of the backfield that the Detroit native took in for a 12-yard touchdown.
Getting the backfield involved in the passing game isn't a new wrinkle to the WVU offense, but it is one the Mountaineers have been finding more and more success with, especially in the Kansas win.
"We flipped it out there in the flat twice last week and we scored," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "You've got to cover everybody and that makes it hard defensively to defend us. "
Even tight end Jovani Haskins got in on the act, lining up offset in the backfield and trickling across the line of scrimmage to catch a pass from Grier before turning upfield for a 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
"It's been there, I just think we hit them on a couple of things with other guys covered," Grier said. "Those running backs do a good job catching the ball and making things happen in space. It's a part of our offense that we'll continue to expand. We want to be as multiple as we can to add another element to the game."
Of course, this group of WVU running backs isn't too bad at carrying the ball either, and it seems a different player steps up to lead the Mountaineers in that department just about every game. One week it might be sophomore Kennedy McKoy, another it might be Pettaway and the next it could be McKoy again or Brown.
It's not a bad problem to have if you're WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
"It goes back to the depth issues," Spavital said."I thought that's where we hit a wall last year where you got to this point in the season and you didn't really have a great backups at that time that we trusted or Will trusted. We ended up kind of running those guys ragged in a way. They weren't as explosive as they need to be. When you have a lot of different backs that you're confident in and a lot of different receivers, that's naturally going to play out during the course of the season. It's a long season and with the attrition of it, you need all these guys to play."
Between McKoy, Pettaway and Brown, the Mountaineers have developed a strong stable of capable running backs, and that group could soon grow. Alec Sinkfield, who left the Youngstown State game last month injured and hasn't played since, could be close to a return.
"It's day-by-day," Spavital said of Sinkfield. "But he's getting close."
n Spreading it out: West Virginia had only five different players catch touchdown passes during the entire 2017 football season. Through five games of the 2018 season, the Mountaineers have doubled that number.
"Last year we had Ka'Ruan [White], Gary [Jennings] and David [Sills] [play] about 95 percent of the time," Holgorsen said. [This season] it's the emergence of Marcus [Simms], it's T.J. [Simmons] being eligible, it's backup receivers doing a better job and maturing and playing better, and then it's getting our running backs involved as well. That's probably the biggest difference [from last season], scheme-wise, is they have to account for those backs."