‘Thunder and lightning’ backfield key to West Virgina’s offense without Will Grier

first_imgPowered by the arm of senior quarterback Will Grier, West Virginia boasted the ninth-most-prolific scoring offense (42.3 points per game). But during the Camping World Bowl, the Mountaineers will be without their offensive leader, who will sit out to prepare for the NFL draft.With Grier and standout offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste sidelined, the No. 16 Mountaineers (8-3, 6-3 Big 12) may have to rely on their junior tailbacks — Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway — to keep up with No. 20 Syracuse (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast). McKoy, a physical runner, averages 66.27 yards on 11.6 carries a game, and Pettaway, a more shifty back, has the ability to stretch runs to the outside. Through the pair, SU head coach Dino Babers still expects the WVU offense to be “explosive.” “Even with their two players (not) playing, I don’t think the point spread has changed,” Babers said.During the regular season, WVU’s high-flying offense relied extensively on Grier’s ability to make plays down the field. It averaged the third-most passing yards per game (358.1) while its rushing offense ranked 74th.Even though just over 68 percent of the Mountaineers total yards came from the air, WVU’s backs supplemented Grier. Brian Flynn, who served as McKoy’s offensive coordinator at North Davidson High School in North Carolina, says Pettaway and McKoy complement each other “like thunder and lightning.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textDale Sparks | West Virginia AthleticsMcKoy often lines up alongside the quarterback in the shotgun or behind him in the pistol. WVU will also split him out into the slot to create a mismatch against a linebacker, which allows him to use his versatility as a physical, “downhill” runner in both the running and passing game, Flynn said. Pettaway, McKoy’s backfield partner, wears No. 32 in memory of his older brother, Devinne, who unexpectedly passed away in 2008 because of cardiomyopathy — a previously undetected enlarged heart. He has 12 pounds on McKoy and makes defenders miss with “good cuts” coming from his agility and footwork, McKoy said. “(Pettaway) is dynamic, man,” Tyrone Spencer, one of Pettaway’s high school coaches said. “When the ball gets in his hands, he makes some plays.”As the season progressed, the Mountaineers committed to the run more, McKoy said. Pettaway scored all six of his touchdowns in the final five games, and McKoy found the end zone five times in WVU’s last three contests. In the Mountaineers’ last regular season game, Pettaway carried the ball 15 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns in West Virginia’s eventual 59-56 loss to Oklahoma.Pettaway and McKoy may be the key to keeping senior quarterback Eric Dungey and his SU offense off the field. Syracuse has struggled at times this season at preventing big running plays because players in the secondary have had trouble bringing down running backs with a head of steam. Cajuste’s absence may also affect the running game, as a backup offensive lineman will be tasked with protecting WVU’s passers and opening holes for Pettaway and McKoy. Since the Mountaineers won’t have their star quarterback under center, Babers said the Orange have had to game plan for “everything.” With SU allowing 163.8 rushing yards per game, 63rd in the country, the Orange may load the box and commit to stopping the run. But no matter how Syracuse plans to stop the run, Pettaway and McKoy’s approaches won’t change.“Our biggest thing is to just take what the defense gives us,” McKoy said “… I guess we’ll have to find out.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on December 23, 2018 at 2:47 pm Contact Danny: [email protected] | @DannyEmermanlast_img read more