MORGANTOWN — It would be only fitting, were someone to take West Virginia’s crucial football game at Texas tonight and turn it into a full-length movie feature film, that it would be of the genre of the 1950’s monster movies.
You may recall seeing them — or certainly have heard of some of them — which included Creature From the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Blob, Monster From Green Hell, Monster From the Ocean Floor and, perhaps most fittingly, Monster on the Campus.
If such a step would be taken to memorialize the matchup between a pair of 2-2 football teams that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. 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 running backs on each side were referred to as “three-headed monster.” West Virginia sophomore Justin Jackson Jr., who had a breakout game in the Mountaineers 33-10 victory over Virginia Tech 10 days earlier dubbing the nickname upon the trio of running backs — himself, freshman sensation CJ Donaldson and junior Tony Mathis — who combined for 218 rush yards against Tech.
“We’re a three-headed monster,” Johnson said after he added 83 yards to the 106 Donaldson put on the board and the 43 that came from the starter Mathis before his playing time was cut short by an untimely fumble.
And, while WVU coach Neal Brown professed the respect he has for star Texas running back Bijan Robinson all week, he had that 1950ish kind of feat that came out of monster movies from a “three-headed monster” they have hidden in their running back room.
Robinson has proven himself over two years and Texas is pushing him for All-American and Heisman recognition.
“You can make a strong argument that he’s 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.”
While Texas leans more heavily on Bijan Robinson, who is so good in all areas of the game including pass protecting and lead blocking, to go with his obvious running and pass receiving skills, WVU is more balanced but is beginning to tip toward Donaldson.
Not recruited as a running back, never having played there before and being moved there mostly as an experiment because the numbers were not what was needed there, Donaldson has caught the nation’s attention right from his first carry, a 44-yard burst against Pitt.
Three 100-yard rushing games out of his first four games have earned his head a spot there among the monsters.
Johnson, however, seemed to figure the game out against Virginia Tech with that 83-yard performance that included a late, key 6-yard touchdown run that put WVU up a couple of scores.
“The game is kind of slowing down for me as I’m starting to get more reps,” Johnson said. “I had to wait my turn, but that’s always the story. Just be patient and blessings will come. We’re all tremendous running backs; a three-headed monster. Me, CJ and Tony are really something special.
“I think we’re the best in the nation,” he concluded.
That may be a bit of hyperbole, but it certainly is a huge step forward in the running game from where WVU was in the first three years under Brown.
Johnson and Mathis offer a contrast to Donaldson. Both are evasive type runners while Donaldson, at 240 pounds, is more a power runner … but he is a unique one.
He has “evadability”, if we can coin a phrase that sounds like something out of TV ad.
He is slick with the ball as well as powerful, an inside runner who can get you a touchdown — he owns six of them — but also able to get to the corner and make the first man miss so he can build a head of steam downfield.
“We’ve been intentional about playing all three,” Brown said. “In the first half of every game we’ve played all three and we’ll continue with that. We may look at some multiple running back packages down the road, especially if all three of them continue to run the ball effectively and are unselfish.”
What they are doing, with a smart and crafty quarterback in JT Daniels and three solid receivers in Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather and Sam Jones, is play possession football, which appears to be the necessary ingredient to 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 more plays than the Hokies.
“If we hold on to the football, stop the run and run the football we have a chance against anybody we play,” Brown said. “It’s going to be that way. Our league is getting some respect nationally now and if you look at it 1 through 10, there’s no layups on that card.”