MORGANTOWN - That Quinton Spain played the entire second half of West Virginia's 21-20 win over Pitt Friday night was not a shock to anyone. The redshirt freshman had been given several opportunities to play during the season as the first backup at every offensive line position except center.So Spain replaced Tyler Rader at right guard after a first half in which quarterback Geno Smith was sacked three times and the Mountaineers rushed for minus-2 yards. Again, no surprise that he would replace someone. It was just a question of who."We tell everybody that they're going to be held accountable for what they do and if they're not playing well, we're going to replace them,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We had some issues with a couple of the guys up front. If you're not performing, we're going to put somebody else in there.''But while Spain's insertion into the lineup was not out of the ordinary, another change up front was. Right tackle Pat Eger was pulled in favor of sophomore Curtis Feigt.
It was a shock even to Feigt, whose first reaction was this:"Oh, crap,'' he said.That lasted only a second or so, though."Pretty quickly I settled down and thought, 'OK, let's get ready to go,'" Feigt said.For the record, Feigt didn't come out of nowhere to play right tackle for the entire second half of West Virginia's biggest game of the season against its most bitter rival. He did, however, come from a couple of unusual places - Germany and the defensive line.When Feigt arrived at WVU in the summer of 2009, he had been in the United States for only a short time. He played two seasons at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania after learning the sport in his native Berlin by playing flag football as a youngster. He didn't play contact football until he was 15.And when he did begin using what has now grown into a 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame with pads and all, it was as a defensive lineman.But after spending his first two seasons trying to work his way through a crowded group of defensive linemen, he was asked last winter to give the offensive line a chance. He agreed and found himself in the mix at right tackle with a new offensive line coach and a new system.That he had not played before was probably more due to knowing nothing about offensive line play than to his ability."It's really not physically that I have to adjust. It's more the mental part,'' Feigt said. "Physically I think I've always been ready because my body type was always there. But mentally, it's a new thing. It's my first year playing offensive line ever in my life.''It's not likely to be his last. With Feigt and Spain in the lineup for the second half, Smith was sacked just once more, and WVU's rushing total went from minus-2 yards in the first half to 115 in the second.
"Sometimes you don't know how a guy's going to respond until you put him into a game situation,'' Holgorsen said. "It was the first time Curtis Feigt took a snap. And Quinton Spain has been playing a little bit, but he hasn't been playing very much. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.''Holgorsen and the offensive coaches also made some strategic changes that helped the offensive line, particularly with the types of plays being called. The adjusted game plan took some pressure off the line by running the ball and calling screens, neither of which put the linemen in the position of having to protect Smith for extended periods.After throwing 16 times and running 10 in the first half, West Virginia threw 15 times and ran the ball 20 times in the second. And the types of passes weren't those that required much long-term pass blocking."They were pinning their ears and just coming at us. We couldn't block them,'' Holgorsen said. "So we ran the ball 30 times and we threw the ball 31 times. And in the second half, we probably only threw it a couple of times when it was a natural drop-back pass.''And while it was "incredibly discouraging'' to Holgorsen to have to almost give up on the regular passing attack - "It means we're not doing 60 percent of our offense because we couldn't block [the defense],'' he said - the coaches were at least able to come up with a successful alternative.Now the question is what to do this week. West Virginia plays at South Florida Thursday night with its Big East championship hopes on the line, and there have to be decisions made on the offensive line. Each time Spain has replaced someone this season, the next game the starting line still looked the same. Rader and Eger - as well as Don Barclay, Jeff Braun and Joe Madsen - have started every game.
Perhaps this week is when that changes. And even if it doesn't, Feigt will be a bit more prepared."I didn't anticipate getting in at all,'' said Feigt, whose only playing time this season was a few snaps at the end of a blowout win over Norfolk State. "I was pretty nervous. But you just have to focus on your assignment and execute.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org