When Graham Harrell and JT Daniels joined West Virginia in the offseason, it was easy to assume that the Mountaineers would throw the ball a lot.
After all, Harrell was a student of Mike Leach’s air raid offensive scheme and threw for the second-most yards in the history of the Big 12. Daniels, his new quarterback, was one of the most highly-touted arm talents in the 2019 recruiting class.
Four games into the season, though, WVU is running the ball more than ever in the Neal Brown era. More than 44 percent of West Virginia’s yards on offense have come on the ground — up from 32.9 percent in 2021, and even more so from the 22.8-percent mark in 2019. The Mountaineers are on pace to run the ball more than pass it for the second time under Brown.
“I think it’s been a progression,” Brown said. “It’s not just the O-line, it’s not just the running backs, not just the tight ends. I think it’s kind of all the pieces together, and schematics plays a role in it too.”
Despite Harrell’s background in the air raid, he values one thing above everything else: winning. He currently has one of the nation’s top run games at his disposal, led by the country’s 20th-leading rusher, CJ Donaldson.
When many coaches try to fit their players into a scheme to find success, Harrell tries to find what works best to influence his playcalling.
“If running the ball is going to give us the best chance to win, we’re going to run the football,” Harrell said. “There’s going to be days where it feels like you’ve got to throw it every down to win. If that’s the case, we’re going to throw it every down…but we’re just going to do whatever we can do to try to move the offense, score points and win football games.”
The success in the run game isn’t due to any struggles in the pass game. WVU averages 272.5 passing yards per game, the fifth-best mark in the Big 12, and it’s clear that the offense has confidence in the skill and leadership of Daniels.
But even Daniels, one of the most sought-after talents in the transfer portal this past year, has bought into the importance of balance on offense.
“[Against Virginia Tech] I asked him over the headset if he wanted to throw something, and he said, ‘Well, we’re running the ball pretty well.’ So we called a run play,” Harrell said. “He might be the only quarterback who I’ve ever asked if he wanted to throw something and he said ‘Run it.'”