Consistent Crawford a Good Thing for Mountaineers
An offseason has paid off for Justin Crawford, who continues to lead the Big 12 in rushing.
The thought process as the 2016 season wound down for those among West Virginia’s football program was that an actual offseason would do wonders for running back Justin Crawford. That meant an offseason spent in the weight room, on the practice field after hours and in the film room rather than working odd jobs at fast food restaurants supporting his wife and children.
It’s safe to say that results are becoming evident.
Through the non-conference portion of the Mountaineers’ schedule, Crawford is the Big 12’s top rusher. He ranks 17th in the NCAA among FBS teams with 326 yards, 76 yards and 40 spots ahead in the national rankings of Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, who ranks second in the Big 12 with 250 rushing yards.
Consistency. That’s what Dana Holgorsen wanted to see from Crawford. And that’s what he’s getting in almost every aspect of Crawford’s game, even when he’s on the sideline.
“Maturity, health, offseason, motivation, knowledge, everything. I like where he’s at,” Holgorsen said of his senior running back. “He was the best cheerleader on the sidelines on Saturday. He was out there yelling at the defense, the second-, third-team defensive guys to get off the field, which I thought was pretty cool. I like where he’s at in general; it means a lot to him to play, it means a lot to him to win. He’s going to do about anything he has to to get that done.”
It’s evident in the numbers, too.
Through three games a year ago, Crawford toted the ball 42 times for 227 yards and just one touchdown. With only one more total carry through three games this season, Crawford has racked up almost 100 more yards and scored five times on the ground. Those five rushing TDs tops the four he had all of last season, by the way.
The biggest thing for Crawford so far, though, is that he’s been able to do just about the same thing every game this season. Even with limited carries — which comes due to a loaded backfield and a nagging injury or cramp in Game 1 against Virginia Tech — Crawford has produced.
He’s not carried the ball more than 15 times a game this season, yet he’s reach 100 yards in each game and found the end zone multiple times in two of three games. The low number of carries, Holgorsen said, will change, but it’s helped keep Crawford fresh heading into Big 12 play.
“We have depth at running back – he’s carrying it, what, like 14-15 times a game for three games now? That number is going to go up at some point,” the head coach said.
Holgorsen went a little further in explaining his thinking heading forward on how many carries Crawford will get.
“I don’t know, I’ve said the days of 28-carry backs are done and then you give it to Crawford 28 times and he goes for 200, 300 yards against Baylor and Oklahoma. He can handle that, the danger in that is what his body is going to be like the next week and the next week,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have (sophomore running back) Kennedy (McKoy) will be back, he’ll be ready to roll, (sophomore running back Martell) Pettaway looked good. We have two other guys.
“What you have to figure out as a coach is if you hand it to your starter 22, 23 times, are you better off handing it to No. 32, No. 7 more times than that? That’s just something we gauge,” he added. “We chart how many times each of these guys have touched the ball, how many snaps they play in a game. Skill guys, offensively, we chart it on the sidelines. I go and talk after every series about who I think needs to touch the ball and who I think needs to play a little bit more just to try to spread things out to keep guys fresh in the fourth quarter, but also to keep them healthy throughout the course of the season. (Director of Player Personnel Ryan) Dorchester does a great job with tracking player participation and our numbers are really even right now, where last year they were really top-heavy. Right now, they are pretty even. That’s everything, special teams and the amount of snaps in general.”
Running backs coach Tony Dews wants to keep all the backs fresh every game. Some of that depends on the back, too.
“I have been trying more to see if we could get them a couple of series and then get them out and get another guy in for a series. We told them if you are in a series and it gets to be a long series and you need a blow tap yourself out, and you can put yourself back in,” Dews said. “I have said all along, this has been a pretty selfless group. There was one time, Pettaway caught a ball the other day, the one ball he caught, he was running and he looked at the sideline and Crawford is running out on the white, where he shouldn’t be, cheering for Pettaway. Those are great things to see as a coach.”
Still, when it comes to Crawford, early-season numbers are encouraging. Dews hasn’t worried yet about Crawford slowing down at all.
“No, just the way the games have gone. Again, it is a long season and it has been well-documented that we have a couple of backs who can play. It is nice to be able to get the other guys reps and get them in the game, as well as being able to get Justin out of the game,” Dews said. “As the season goes and we understand that people get nicked up or bruised, it is a little easier when someone has to miss a game when you have two guys that have gotten game reps and game speed. It is also helping all of the other guys that are playing on special teams. Everyone is getting in the game and getting the feel of the game. That is going to be a positive thing for us going forward throughout the season.”