MORGANTOWN — It would be entirely appropriate for someone to take West Virginia’s pivotal football game in Texas tonight and turn it into a feature film, that it would be of the genre of 1950s monster movies.
You may remember seeing them – or you may have heard of them – among them Creature From the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Blob, Monster From Green Hell, Monster From the Ocean Floor and, perhaps more aptly, Monster on the Campus.
If such a step was taken to commemorate the game between a pair of 2-2 football teams which kicks off at 7.30pm in Austin on FS1, the groundwork has been laid in the pre-game hype for the most fitting of titles :
“Battle of the Three-Headed Monsters”
Indeed this week the stable of ball carriers on each side was called “Three-headed monster”. West Virginia sophomore Justin Jackson Jr., who won a decisive game in the Mountaineers’ 33-10 victory over Virginia Tech 10 days earlier, dubbing the nickname of the trio of running backs – himself , freshman sensation CJ Donaldson and junior Tony Mathis — who combined for 218 rushing yards against Tech.
“We are a three-headed monster” Johnson said after adding 83 yards to the 106 Donaldson put on the board and the 43 that came from starter Mathis before his playing time was cut short by an untimely fumble.
And, while WVU coach Neal Brown has professed the respect he has for Texas star running back Bijan Robinson all week, he’s had that kind of 1950s feat that came out of the monster movies of a “Three-Headed Monster” they hid in their running room.
Robinson has proven himself for two years and Texas is pushing him for All-American and Heisman recognition.
“You can argue that he is the best player in the country”, Brown said, but didn’t stop there. “Then they have Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson. All three running backs are special.
With Texas relying more on Bijan Robinson, who is so good at all areas of the game, including pass protection and blocking leads, to go with his obvious running and pass-catching skills, WVU is more balanced but is starting to lean towards Donaldson.
Having not been drafted as a running back, having never played there before, and being moved there mostly on a trial basis because numbers weren’t what was needed there, Donaldson caught the eye of the nation on his first run, a 44-yard flurry against Pitt.
Three 100-yard rushing games in his first four games earned him a place among the monsters.
Johnson, however, seemed to figure out the game against Virginia Tech with that 83-yard performance that included a late and key 6-yard touchdown run that put WVU on a couple of runs.
“The game is slowing down a bit for me as I start getting more reps,” says Johnson. “I had to wait my turn, but that’s still the story. Just be patient and the blessings will come. We are all great ball carriers; a three-headed monster. Me, CJ and Tony are really something special.
“I think we are the best in the country” he concluded.
It may be a bit of hyperbole, but it’s definitely a huge step up in the running game from WVU in the first three years under Brown.
Johnson and Mathis provide a contrast to Donaldson. Both are evasive type runners while Donaldson, at 240 pounds, is more of a power runner…but he is unique.
He has “evadability”if we can invent a phrase that sounds like a TV commercial.
He’s skilled with the ball as well as powerful, an inside runner who can get you a touchdown – he’s got six – but also able to reach the corner and miss the first man so he can build a steam header down. .
“We intended to play all three” said Brown. “In the first half of every game we’ve played all three and we’ll continue with that. We can look at several ball carrier packages down the road, especially if all three continue to direct the ball effectively and are selfless.
What they do, with a smart and crafty quarterback in JT Daniels and three strong receivers in Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather and Sam Jones, is play possession football, which seems to be the necessary ingredient for beat Texas.
The Longhorns were upset last week by Texas Tech as the Red Raiders ran 100 plays against them in an overtime game and WVU, beating Virginia Tech, had 32 first downs and ran 23 plays more than the Hokies.
“If we hang on to the football, stop the run and run the football, we have a chance against everyone we play,” said Brown. “It will be like that. Our league is now nationally respected and if you look at it from 1-10 there are no layups on this map.