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WVU's Running Back Depth Has Become a "Three-Headed Monster"

Mathis Jr., Johnson Jr., and Donaldson have all contributed in huge ways so far in 2022.

WVU running backs coach Chad Scott has a room that gives Cerberus a run for its money.

"We're a three-headed monster." Justin Johnson Jr. said. "Me, CJ, and Tony, we have something special. I think that's the nature of it."

Scott entered the 2022 season with redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis Jr. as his presumed go-to back. Mathis Jr. had watched Leddie Brown get stellar reps in 2021, and was itching for a similar such season. 

Sophomore Justin Johnson Jr. stood in the wings, but would likely get a fair amount of snaps with the new offense install.

True freshman CJ Donaldson was a dark horse... untested, floating around position rooms, and acclimating to the basics of running a college football offense.

Four games in, the three-pronged approach has combined for 217.5 yards on the ground per game, enough for 39 of the Mountaineer offense's 95 first downs and 162 of 311 offensive plays.

"I would say my style is patient," Johnson Jr. said of the way he sees the running back room's individual styles play out on the field. "I see it and I hit it. Tony, he's very patient. Me and Tony kind of run alike. CJ, he's big and fast. He uses weight and gets downhill... It comes from his ability as a wide receiver."

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Donaldson now holds records for the latest Mountaineer 100+-yard rushing game for his 106 against Virginia Tech. He also holds the latest 75+-yard Mountaineer TD run for his 82-yarder against Towson; the aforementioned touchdown became the second-longest by a freshman in Mountaineer football history, only trumped by Eddie Dugan's 90-yarder in 1952.

In addition, Donaldson also revamped another WVU Football stat with his 125 yards against Pitt; the last and only time a true freshman recorded a 100-yard rushing game in a season opener was in 1919, when William Neale ran for 150 yards against Marietta. Donaldson's is the only such statistic of the 21st century. Let that sink in.

Donaldson (No. 4) and Mathis (No. 9) also combine to make West Virginia the sole team to place two running backs among the top-10 in the conference in total yards. West Virginia also ranks No. 20 in the country in rushing offense. Donaldson is No. 28 in the country in rushing yards (Mathis is No. 69) and tied for No. 7 in rushing TDs.

Regardless of who Scott and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell place into the scheme, the running back room will produce. On 162 rushing attempts, the Mountaineers have gained 918 yards and only lost 48, 37 of which have come directly from sacks.

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