Line Shuffle to Continue For WVU in Camping World Bowl
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the second consecutive season, West Virginia will be without key offensive linemen (not to mention other players on that side of the ball) when it makes its bowl appearance. Will this year’s result be any different that last year’s dead-from-the-start showing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl?
In that 2017 game, linemen Kyle Bosch and Yodny Cajuste were injured and did not play. This year, Cajuste is a healthy scratch due to his decision to skip the Camping World Bowl. That’s also the track for quarterback Will Grier. There’s also another skill position parallel, as Justin Crawford skipped the Dallas contest, while Gary Jennings opted out of the Camping World game.
The offensive line losses in 2017 led to an almost total offensive blackout for WVU, which managed just 153 total yards of offense. This year, though, circumstances in the final portion of the regular season might have prepared the Mountaineers better. Injuries and a search for the best mix up front forced several changes throughout the season. WVU saw four different players start at right guard alone, and had many more in-game switches to boot. Against Oklahoma alone, West Virginia had seven different combinations of offensive linemen.
“We’re ok moving around, playing here, playing there. It doesn’t matter to any of us as long as we are playing and get to contribute,” said sophomore Josh Sills, who has started 16 games at left guard and four on the right side during his two seasons of play at WVU, while also getting a few tackle snaps against the Sooners. “You just have to tell yourself it’s no different than the other side. Flipping back and forth doesn’t bother me. It always helps if you do get flipped out to tackle to get those reps during practice. You can say you are kind of used to it.”
Moving to the opposite side of the line on the fly, to say nothing of the switch to a different position, is more challenging that it looks. Reversing initial steps in pass protection, or changing techniques, is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
“I kind of caught myself at tackle a little bit because the guys on the edge are usually a little smaller, a little faster,” Sills admitted. “So you have to take different angles or be a little quicker. I’ve caught myself at times during the game saying ‘Aww, I can’t do that’ because I’m not playing against somebody who’s bigger.”
WVU’s depth charth shows a starting five against Syracuse that runs from Kelby Wickline at left tackle to Sills, Matt Jones, Isaiah Hardy and Colton McKivitz, but head coach Dana Holgorsen listed Mike Brown as a potential starter during a pre-bowl interview as well. Whatever the configuration, Sills said the experience the group has gained this year will help it be better prepared for this year’s contest.
“I wouldn’t say we approach it differently, but it just comes back to the integrity and the unit as a whole, and the chemistry that we all have,” he said of the differences between last year’s bowl game and this one. “We all feel like we have better chemistry than what we did last year. Everyone’s on the same page, everyone kind of thinks the same. Everyone knows what everyone else is thinking.
“It just goes back to football is football,” he continued. “You can ask any of the guys, it doesn’t matter where they play. They just want to get on the field and want to play. At the end of the day the goal is to win.”