Run the ball and win with defense. We're staring right in the face of Alternate Universe Dana Holgorsen's ultimate football team.
With inexperience at both quarterback and wide receiver, West Virginia's offense is going to rely on its running backs more than ever before. The talent is there, and the group should be more than up for the challenge. Holgorsen and his staff has built a top flight group of backs, and they are easily the most proven unit on this offense. Without any further ado, let's get down to business.
The Featured Backs
The Work Horse: Rushel Shell (2014 Stats -- 176 carries, 778 yards, 7 TDs / 21 recs, 140 yards)
Listed at 5'10, 221, Shell is the epitome of a featured running back. He will be used early and often this season to wear down opposing defenses, and hopefully set up big plays off of play action. He was slightly hampered by nagging injuries in 2014, but looks to come back 100% and be the leading back on a fantastic rushing team.
While Shell is a bruising back, he'll need to improve his big play ability if he wants to finish this season in the upper echelon of running backs in the Big 12 and the nation as a whole. Shell's 20+ yard runs were few and far between last season, and while it's not entirely his style, the Mountaineers could certainly use some more explosiveness from their "big" back. Thankfully, even if Shell doesn't gain some explosiveness, his back field mate can provide a bit of that spark...
The Change of Pace: Wendell Smallwood (2014 -- 148 carries, 722 yards, 2 TDs / 31 recs, 326 yards)
One area that Shell lacks is reception skills out of the backfield. Thankfully, West Virginia's stable provides the perfect complement in #4, Wendell Smallwood. He's definitely a shiftier back and had the advantage of getting to watch Charles Sims as a true freshman, and Smallwood has succeeded in modeling his game after Sims.
Smallwood brings to the table one of the most versatile skill sets of any player on this team. He's able to carry the load as a featured back, catch out of the backfield, or even become a threat as a slot receiver on some occasions. If Smallwood's game continues to evolve, he'll be able to make a nice career as a third down back at the next level. With an inexperienced receiving corps and quarterback situation, expect slip screens on slip screens to Smallwood as we try to take the pressure off of Skyler Howard.
The Rotational Guys
The Future: Donte Thomas-Williams
DTW was the prized recruit of the 2014 class, and looks the part as a future featured back in Morgantown. His spring game performance was one of the sole bright spots on a bad day for the Mountaineer offense, and he has a combination of speed and strength rarely seen in Morgantown.
However, DTW has had somewhat of a backslide in fall camp, where RB coach JaJuan Seider has been quoted as saying he needs to do more to show his talent. He's been suplanted on the depth chart by Elijah Wellman, in part because of a deficiency in pass protection.
I'm sure we'll see some sparks from Thomas-Williams this year, but his best (and largest amounts of playing time) is likely to come later.
The Fullback: Elijah Wellman
Converted to the backfield by necessity after the transfers of Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, Wellman won't see a ton of carries but will make his presence known through his pass protection.
Wellman won't be the kind of player that loses games for the Mountaineers, but he'll make some unsung solid plays that help WVU win a few.
Ceiling: Local Kid Folk Hero.
The Small, Fast Guy that We Always Have: Jacky Marcellus
It's what it says on the tin. Marcellus is this season's incarnation of the Noel Devine/Jock Sanders/Tavon Austin archetype that has been making big plays for the Mountaineers for the better part of the last decade.
At 5'8, 175, he won't be truck sticking guys out there, but his shifty style and speed will pose problems when he's able to work his way on the the field. How much playing time he'll see remains to be seen, but a few big plays early on will certainly help his case.
BEST CASE: West Virginia's offensive line opens up a ton of holes and Smallwood and Shell stay healthy to the tune of Holgo's Air Raid producing two 1000 yard backs and games that don't last four and a half hours. Michael Felder likes West Virginia football.
WORST CASE: #CharlesSimsSeasonOfSadness