Wickline: WVU Offensive Line ‘A Work In Progress’
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–An accurate evaluation of West Virginia’s offensive line is going to take more than one game.
Obviously the most important thing is the group helped lead the way for a 40-14 blowout of Tennessee in the season opener.
“We did some things good and some things bad,” said WVU’s second-year offensive line coach Joe Wickline.
“We made a step. I hate to be corny, but it’s a work in progress. It was a typical first game. We’re moving on and trying to get better every day.”
Behind that offensive line, the Mountaineers netted 118 rushing yards on 27 attempts, which averages out to a fair but not great 4.4 yards per rushing attempt.
The line was better in terms of pass protection. While it gave up two sacks, it allowed quarterback Will Grier enough time to throw for 429 yards and five touchdowns.
“It was OK, just OK,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen in regards to the run blocking. “I thought our pass protection was pretty good, I thought the run blocking was OK.
“(Tennessee’s) front was good now, don’t kid yourself,” he continued. “They’re all four-, five-star guys; you guys talk about four- and five-star guys all the time. They had those guys; they were pretty good up front. They started to outnumber us, and I thought Will did a good job of getting us into appropriate plays. It wasn’t anything great, but it was OK, and I think it’ll continue to get better.”
Tackles Yodny Cajuste and Colton McKivitiz, as well as left guard Josh Sills are all veterans. McKivitz, a junior, recorded his 24th career start this past Saturday in Charlotte, while Cajuste, a senior, started for the 20th time. Sills, a sophomore, enjoyed his 10th career start.
The other two starting offensive linemen weren’t set heading into the opener, though.
Last year’s No. 1 center, Matt Jones, received competition for that starting role in the preseason from Jacob Buccigrossi. Jones ultimately did earn the start against UT, though Buccigrossi rotated in at the center position as well.
Wickline wouldn’t guarantee that he would continue to rotate the two in the future, though.
“That’s up to them. It’s not up to me or you or anybody else,” the veteran o-line coach explained. “It’s up to the players, the student-athlete. It’s like a running back – the hot guy gets the ball – or like a receiver, DB or anybody else. It’s the guy who’s going to perform the best that specifies the number of reps and how we rotate. The good news is that Jacob and Matt are good people, and they’re good players. They love West Virginia. They’re lucky they’re here, and they got us through the first game.”
At right guard, junior college transfer Joe Brown got the start, though Chase Behrndt saw action for a few series at that position as well.
It was Joe’s first action with the Mountaineers, as he and his equally big younger brother Mike Brown (both are in the 6-foot-3, 353-pound range) each transferred to WVU from Eastern Arizona Community College this summer.
“Joe took a step. He’s not ready to quit practice yet,” noted Wickline. “I’m glad we have him – he and Mike. They’re a great addition, like all the guys in the room. I don’t see him going backwards. I only see him going forwards, and he’s interested in the game. He has a lot of pride and wants to be good. That’s the first part of the recipe. If you want to be good and you want to get it fixed, then you’re going to figure out how to get it fixed. So, we’re proud that he’s here and we’re glad that he’s a Mountaineer.”
For all of Wickline’s offensive linemen, the key is the same – getting better each week. For WVU that means continuing to block well in terms of pass protection but improving when it comes to opening up running lanes.
“I probably made some mistakes,” admitted Wickline. “I did make some mistakes on what I should do in this area and what I should do in that area. Just like the players, the coach has to clean things up. There were some issues there, but we’ll work on it. Obviously, that’s what practice is for, and we’re back to the drawing board. We’re starting all over again. New week, new game, same team.”
West Virginia will play its first home game of the season this coming Saturday when it hosts Youngstown State. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised by AT&T SportsNet out of Pittsburgh.