Putting it on the lines
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Of all the things that might have made West Virginia's offensive transition from stars to projects at the skill positions this season a bit easier, it would have been better play from the offensive line.
Dana Holgorsen has known that from the start. He has preached the importance of it. New quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs need time to develop. The offensive line could give it to them.
For the most part that didn't happen, which is a major reason the Mountaineers struggled so badly on offense. Now, though, as it matters most with the season on the line, perhaps it's coming around.
Holgorsen believes that not only did West Virginia's offensive line dominate in last week's 30-27 overtime win at TCU, so did the defensive line. Now the hope is that it continues because with Texas coming to town on Saturday it has to.
"It's going to have to happen again this week,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. "Last year when we played Texas we won the game up front. We will not win the game with skill guys because they are very talented at those positions, as well as up front. If you win the line you have a chance to win the game.''
The teams play Saturday in a 7 p.m. game at Mountaineer Field. West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) is trying to continue on a path to become bowl eligible. Texas (6-2, 5-0) is trying to win a Big 12 championship after a disastrous start to the season.
How good was West Virginia's offensive line play last week? Well, running back Charles Sims rushed for 154 yards, the most ever against a TCU team coached by the defensive-minded Gary Patterson, and he didn't do it alone.
"We challenged them to be physical up front,'' Holgorsen said. "We felt like we could be the more physical team and we were.
"Our success running the ball has a lot to do with our offensive line coming off the ball. That's why I made [guards] Mark Glowinski and Quinton Spain our players of the week. We were pulling those guys a lot and they were pretty physical.''
The offensive line play was only half of it, though. West Virginia's defensive line helped hold TCU to just 60 yards rushing. While the Horned Frogs managed to throw for almost 400 yards, the pass rush didn't make it easy on battered quarterback Casey Pachall.
"Defensively we hit the quarterback 21 times and they averaged 2 yards a rush,'' Holgorsen said. "I think we won the battle up front on both sides of the ball, which is a winning performance.''
Winning the line battles - at least both of them - has been rare for West Virginia, both in the Holgorsen era and before. West Virginia's offensive line play hasn't been consistently good for years, in great part because of changes in offensive style going all the way back to Rich Rodriguez. His lines were generally more mobile and trained to zone block for guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton and seldom to pass block or run power football.
Beginning with Bill Stewart and then into the Holgorsen era, those linemen have been asked to do more traditional blocking and it has been a struggle both teaching and recruiting, thus the difficulties.
If West Virginia is to succeed offensively in the Big 12 it has to continue to improve. Take Texas, for instance. Holgorsen refers to them as easily the most physical team the Mountaineers have played this season, so matching that up front will be important.
"Obviously it's something that we're focused on,'' Holgorsen said. "I was happy that it happened. I think everybody understands that we don't have the skill guys right now to dominate games like you have seen.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.