WVU’s Offensive Line Shows Potential & Pitfalls Over First Two Games
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s been much ado about West Virginia’s pass protection two games in, the line allowing just three sacks over 170 plays.
That’s as it should be for the big uglies, what legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson termed the trench players. The line has aided an offense averaging 40 points and more than 600 yards per game, and kept quarterback Will Grier upright and clean even against a stout front in Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers have rolled opposing secondaries for 387 yards per outing, and Grier has just the one fourth down interception early in the opener against eight touchdown passes.
But why, and more importantly, can the line duplicate that consistency in the run game?
Portions of the passing success stem from opposing defenses daring WVU to throw. With the return of the Big 12’s leading rusher in Justin Crawford, and the ability to stuff the ground game paramount in the eyes of most coordinators, both Tech and ECU aligned to slow the run at times, albeit in vastly different styles. Tech attempted to cool Crawford’s jets with a numbers advantage, and by clogging the middle of the field and trying to bounce runs wide, where the more experienced linebackers could make plays.
East Carolina was more cautious. Having watched Grier and the passing game heat up late against the Hokies, ECU played well off in man coverage and routinely stationed linebackers six to seven yards off the ball. That left light numbers in the run game, essentially daring West Virginia to slice the defense apart five yards at a time. That’s what happened, as the Mountaineers averaged 4.6 yards per rush and scored on runs of 5, 13 and 41 yards.
Coordinator Jake Spavital recognized it immediately, starting with three runs in the first four plays, and using five runs over the first nine snaps in taking a quick 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. In fact, seven of West Virginia’s eight first half drives started with a run, and the other was a Grier two-yard gain off a scramble, which is technically a run but was initially a pass call. Not until the fourth quarter and the entrance of back-up Chris Chugunov at quarterback did the Mountaineers open a series with a pass.
The first down results were a mixed bag, gaining a total of 35 yards on the eight drives, but also having runs for minus-four yards and for no gain. In all, WVU is averaging well over 200 yards per game (218.5) on the ground, but it hasn’t looked quite as crisp there as desired. Case in point: Ahead 14-3 with possession at midfield late in the first quarter, WVU called an power run off tackle.
The snap called for Kyle Bosch to pull from his left guard slot and negate any pressure of the edge. A line miscommunication, however, allowed cornerback Corey Seargent a blitz angle from the boundary side, and Seargent dropped Kennedy McKoy after a one-yard gain. Right tackle Colton McKivitz, per responsibility, blocked down on the end, pushing him inside, while Bosch found himself in no man’s land without a defender to block as Seargeant went wide to make the tackle.
“Obviously we have to have communication from the tackles letting us know if there is any corner press,” Bosch said. “The safety gapped, so we know there’s a blitz coming off the edge. That specific play I was going to pull and trap to the defensive end. If the defensive end is kinda leaning in, and the safety’s over the hash, you normally think you’re going to get a corner crash.
“We didn’t get the corner crash called, and that’s my fault. I should have been able to adjust off that, but it’s early in the year with communication. That’s something we have to harp on. We have to get better at it as an offensive line. Colton would have just had to give me a heads up that it was a corner crash and I could have adjusted my pull track. Nonetheless, as a fifth-year senior I have to be able to see that stuff. We won the game, so I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”
The corner did tip the hand a touch, aligning inside of Ka’Raun White and feigning a few steps before breaking just before the snap. West Virginia came back to a similar play a few snaps later, this time pulling right guard Josh Sills, who replaced the injured Grant Lingafelter. This time McKoy delayed a second, shuffling a half step as a linebacker brought pressure off WVU’s left edge. Sills simply pushed the defender aside as McKoy and fullback Eli Wellman strolled past for the 13-yard touchdown to go ahead 21-3.
“It’s been about what we expected,” line coach Joe Wickline said. “We’ve got some young players that’ll learn. They’ve excelled in areas and in other areas, they need to get better. We’ve got a lot to clean up and we’re a work in progress right now. We’re kind of embracing that role and we’re trying to get better.”
Bosch agreed, noting that the coming weeks are key developmental ones for the Mountaineers, who hope to get Lingafelter and Jacob Buccigrossi back in time for the open week prior to TCU.
“We found out that the reality is that we are all very young on both sides of the ball,” Bosch said. “We just had to improve and I think from VT week to last week we really improved on all the little nuances, penalties, missed assignments, etc. We’re definitely moving in the right direction as a team and as an offense.”