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West Virginia hopes running game improves against Virginia Tech
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West Virginia hopes running game improves against Virginia Tech

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia running back Leddie Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

But that does not mean the Mountaineers are happy with their ground game heading into Saturday’s duel with Virginia Tech.

The Mountaineers ran for only 48 yards on 21 carries in their 30-24 loss at Maryland in the season opener. They ran for 198 yards last weekend, but that came in a 66-0 rout of FCS member Long Island.

WVU coach Neal Brown wants his offensive linemen to do a better job of run blocking Saturday.

“We’ve got to continue to improve on our physicality. Still not where we need it to be,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get better fundamentally. We’ve got to get more physical up front.”

Brown ran for 1,010 yards for the 6-4 Mountaineers last season, when he earned All-Big 12 first-team honors.

“We’ve got a great running back,” receiver Sean Ryan said. “We want to play for him. We want to block for him. We want to create big plays for him and create momentum off of him.”

But Brown is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season, down from 5.1 yards per carry last fall. He has rushed for 104 yards on 32 carries this season, including just 31 yards on 15 carries against Long Island.

“Leddie is … a great player and we [need to] make sure we honor that with how we find ways to give him room, and then, of course, Leddie’s got to own his part in making sure when we get that room, we get [yards from him],” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said.

“People know [him] now, and … you’ve got to be good when everybody knows that it’s a huge piece of our plan.”

But improving the ground game won’t be easy against the Hokies.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Brown said. “Their linebackers play downhill and their D-line is tough. They hold double teams very well. They’re really good using their hands getting off of the individual blocks.”

So can the WVU offense be as physical as the Tech defense?

“You’re playing a good football team, one that’s hung their hat on the ability to do that throughout the test of time,” Parker said. “You see that through their program and see it through their defense.

“So us being able to compete and match that [physicality], hopefully excel at that, is going to be important to the football game.”

The 15th-ranked Hokies opened with a 17-10 win over North Carolina and beat Middle Tennessee 35-14 last weekend.

“They played really high-end defense two weeks in a row,” Brown said. “North Carolina’s one of the better offenses in the country … [but the Hokies] got after them pretty good up front.”

One way WVU might be able to rev up its ground game is by using backup quarterback Garrett Greene on Saturday. Greene came off the bench against Long Island and ran for 98 yards on 14 carries in his season debut. He also completed four of seven passes.

Brown said Greene’s performance was only a “mixed bag,” though.

“His run decisions were really good,” Brown said. “[But] he missed some pre-snap reads. He probably should have thrown four or five more passes in the RPO [run-pass option] game.

“You don’t want to contain what’s the best thing about him, which is his ability to freelance and his ability to make plays on the run. But you also don’t want him breaking out every single time. So we’re working on finding kind of a happy medium.”

WVU starting quarterback Jarret Doege was picked off twice against Maryland but had no interceptions last weekend. He has completed 38 of 62 passes for 536 yards and four TDs this year after throwing for 2,587 yards last year.

Brown did not sound Tuesday like a coach who was ready to turn to a two-QB system.

“Where you run into some issues is your ability to practice,” he said. “You’re limited time-wise, and our guys are so different.”

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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