Week after week this year, WVU has had its hands full in containing a top-tier running back.
Over the last four games, the Mountaineers encountered Abram Smith at Baylor, Zach Evans at TCU,
Heisman Trophy candidate Breece Hall at Iowa State and Jaylen Warren at Oklahoma State —
four rushers currently averaging more than 100 yards per game.
“It’s just the Big 12,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “Some years it’s receivers, this year it’s running backs.”
When the Mountaineers hit the field today at Kansas State (Noon, FS1), they’ll be matched up with another game breaking back.
Sophomore Deuce Vaughn may rank a somewhat-distant sixth in rushing in the conference entering the week,
but his impact spreads further than the run game as he leads all Big 12 running backs in receiving.
“The combination of the formations they use with his skillset makes it really difficult,” Lesley said.
“He’s very unique. I think, for three or four weeks now, that it’s been more of a traditional running back — downhill, power — and how teams have done that is pretty simple, honestly.
How they use Deuce is you always have to find him, and that sometimes — in their formation structure — is hard to do.”
Vaughn is coming off of his best overall performance of the season for the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Big 12),
rushing for 162 yards and three touchdowns while also hauling in six receptions for 70 yards.
Through nine games,
he averages 143 all-purpose yards each time he hits the field.
Veteran quarterback Skylar Thompson is also on West Virginia’s radar,
a dual-threat option who didn’t play against the Mountaineers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) last season due to injury.
He did face WVU in 2019, going 24 of 39 passing for 299 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 24-20 West Virginia win.
Thompson’s meal ticket as of late has come by throwing the football. He’s completed roughly 71% of his passes in 2021,
and currently ranks third in the conference by averaging 226 passing yards per game.
“He can, but he’s not running as much,” head coach Neal Brown said.
“I don’t notice them calling as many run plays for him. The one thing I think, his accuracy has really improved.
He’s always been a guy that had a strong arm, and I think he still has that rare ability to be able to extend plays.”
Lesley echoed Brown, calling Thompson one of the conference’s best
“(He) has a big arm (and) is one of the better quarterbacks in our league of sitting back and
diagnosing a defense,” Lesley said.
“When you look at the ability that they have with Deuce Vaughn and, honestly, all their running backs —
how they get them in formation in situations — and then those receivers outside,
I really don’t think he has to run as much because he can go through his reads and diagnose the defense as well as anybody in my opinion.”
A potent offensive backfield stands in the way of the Mountaineers and their fifth win of the season,
a goal this week that would put the team that much closer to bowl eligibility.
WVU With three games to go, every opportunity counts.
“We’ve got to be focused on what we’ve got to do against K-State to give us a chance to win Saturday afternoon,” Brown said.
“That’s the main focus, knowing if we play the game the right way over these next three weeks, then hopefully we end up eligible.”