Wickline: WVU’s Offensive Line Grades Good, But Still Leave Room For Improvement
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia offensive line coach Joe Wickline has always done a good job of keeping separation in the two sides of his relationship with son Kelby, who has been a backup on the offensive front for his two years at WVU. Last Saturday, though, he was thrust into a front-and-center role (or should that be front-and-tackle?) when left tackle Yodny Cajuste was ejected in the first quarter.
Kelby came on after a quick pep talk from his father, and acquitted himself well in the remainder of WVU’s 42-41 win, earning what has to amount for high praise from the notably reticent elder Wickline.
“I was proud of him as an offensive line coach and as a dad. He’s part of our football team. He was the next man up, and he did his job. He understands Coach Holgorsen’ concept on depth and being ready to go.”
Kelby might want to frame that clip and hang it on his wall, because outright public praise is rare coming from his father in most football-related situations. It’s not that Joe doesn’t see what’s good, or offer encouragement or compliments. It’s just that he’s more guarded in offering those opinions to the public. As a decidedly old-school coach, he doesn’t want his players getting what some call the big head.
It’s not as if the 2018 edition of the WVU line should have been in danger of that. While it had played adequately for the most part, there were notable breakdowns in many games, and coming into the Texas contest there were still questions about its performance or ability to run the ball against better defenses. Thus, the rolling up of 232 rushing yards while not allowing a sack was significant.
Wickline, though, wants more, and sees much more room for improvement.
“Did they grade well, have high grades? Not excessively, but they played well enough to win,” the veteran coach revealed. “They competed. They got after it. They gave great effort. We’re making strides here and there, kind of tiptoeing. But we are getting better.
In order to head off any delusions of grandeur, a key factor for any football player is stressed.
“Mental toughness, we talk about leaving the last at bat where it is whether you struck out or hit a home run,” said Wickoine, mixing sports metaphors in a revealing manner. “It’s irrelevant the next time you come up. You have to block everything else out.”
Also included in the improvement plan were challenges, both of the personal and group variety. Those were generated in the offensive line’s meeting room, but also extended to other positions.
“We’ve been challenging our guys. Coach Black (Marquel Blackwell) with the running backs, they had a different gear. They had an edge. They hit the holes and made people miss,” Wickline observed. “We did our job, we did what we were supposed to do.”
Up next is a TCU team that features an excellent defensive line — one that will mix three- and four-man fronts while operating out of a base 4-2-5 system. They’ll provide a more difficult challenge than Texas, with numerous stunts and twists designed to confuse blockers.
“TCU’s front four is as good as there is out there. They play with great pad level, great twitch, and get off blocks,” Wickline scouted. “From a history standpoint they are as good as there is. They do a great job playing defense.”
To combat that, WVU will rely on its practice work, as well as a balanced approach that’s designed to keep TCU, if not confused, at least guessing.
“We practice against a good offensive line every day,” said Wickline before diving into some general ideas of a game plan. “You start off with balance. Run, pass, what types of runs and passes, and what you have done before. You try to game plan to where it’s about balance to try to keep them flat-footed, hopefully.”