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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia offensive line coach Matt Moore has been part of this climb before, so he knows what it takes.
A 1996 graduate of Valdosta State (Ga.) University, Moore first worked with current WVU head coach Neal Brown in 2006 when Matt got a job as a graduate assistant at Troy, having spent the previous nine years in the high school ranks. Brown was in his initial season at Troy as a full-time assistant in charge of wide receivers. It was just Brown’s fourth year in coaching after completing his playing career at UMass in 2002.
It’s a working relationship that has been in place for most of the last 15 years since, from Texas Tech (Moore from 2007-11 and Brown from 2010-12), again at Troy (2015-18) and now at West Virginia (2019-present).
The second stint at Troy, where Brown took over as head coach in 2015 and brought Moore back to serve as the Trojans’ offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator, is the example Moore frequently uses on how the improvement process should progress.
“I’ve done it before,” noted the native of Canton, Georgia, which is about 40 miles north of Atlanta. “I did it at Troy, and I know it’s a process. It also helps to have a head coach who understands where you are, and doesn’t want you just to go from here to here (making a big jump with his hands) but understands you go from here to here to here to here (making smaller jumps). It’s going to be a process, especially upfront, and you’re not going to flip a switch and overnight become significantly better.”
The process worked very well for Brown and Moore at Troy.
The Trojans had a proud football tradition under veteran head coach Larry Blakeney (178-113-1 from 1991-2014), but they had fallen on hard times in the latter portion of his tenure. Blakeney’s teams suffered just four losing seasons in his first 20 years at Troy, but they couldn’t poke their heads above .500 in his final four years as the head coach. That included a 3-9 record in his last campaign in 2014.
Enter Brown and Moore in 2015, and the rebuilding process began, though the turnaround wasn’t immediate.
That first season the Trojans stumbled to a 4-8 record under its new coaching staff. They averaged just 119.1 rushing yards per game to go along with 240.8 passing yards and 27.9 points per game.
Everything improved after that, though.
Troy’s record soared to 10-3 in 2016, as its rushing (169.2 ypg), passing (260.5 ypg) and scoring (33.7 ppg) all increased. The Trojans’ attack remained solid in year three (11-2/149.0 rushing ypg, 269.6 passing ypg and 31.5 points per game) and year four (10-3/174.1 rushing ypg, 215.3 passing ypg and 30.7 ppg).
“At Troy what we did is, the recruiting piece was big,” recalled Brown. “We added some older guys who helped us immediately, and then by our fourth year, four out of the five (starting offensive linemen) were guys who made all-conference, and each of those was someone we recruited out of high school and developed. That’s the best way to do it, but it just takes some time.”
rown and Moore are in the midst of a similar rebuild heading into year three with the Mountaineers.
Just like at Troy, their first season at West Virginia came with offensive struggles, particularly in the ground game. They averaged just 73.2 rushing yards per game in 2019, along with 248.7 passing yards and 20.6 points per game in posting a 5-7 record. Things got better, though still not great, offensively in year two, as the Mountaineers’ run game (135.1 ypg), passing game (277.5 ypg) and scoring production (26.5 ppg) all took a step forward in the 6-4 season of 2020.
WVU’s offensive line was certainly part of those past struggles, but Moore feels it is making strides.
“To have any success (in 2019 and 2020), we had to call around the deficiencies we had upfront,” the o-line coach explained. “Now we’re getting to the point where we don’t have to call around deficiencies. We expect everyone to win (their blocks), so we can run the entire offense. It’s been a process – it’s been recruiting, it’s been fundamentals, it’s been (strength coach) Mike Joseph, it’s been all those things. Then competition is a humongous piece, as well.”
Moore is now getting to the point where he believes he is beginning to establish the depth needed to create healthy competition for playing time.
While West Virginia’s starting offensive front is likely established for the Sept. 4 opener at Maryland with Brandon Yates at left tackle, James Gmiter at left guard, Zach Frazier at center, Doug Nester at right guard and Wyatt Milum at right tackle the depth chart is written in pencil, not pen, though, because several currently in the backup group are also pushing for significant playing time. Tackles Parker Moorer, Ja’Quay Hubbard and Chris Mayo, as well as guards Jordan White, John Hughes and Nick Malone, are in contention for spots in WVU’s o-line rotation. If the Mountaineers need backup help at center behind Frazier, that will probably come from Gmiter and White.
“Zach Frazier is doing a great job at center,” noted Moore. “We’ve really worked hard to develop a second-team center. Gmiter is doing a really good of being able to come in there and take some snaps at center along with being a guard.
“I feel good about the tackle spots,” the coach added. “Yates has taken a step. He’s still a pretty young player, but he’s taken a step this camp. He’s had a solid camp.”
Moore believes this line, while still young as all but Hughes have at least three seasons of college eligibility remaining, has the capability of helping the Mountaineer offense take another step or two forward. To do that, the coach says there are a couple of keys.
“I want us to be physical and play with effort,” stated Moore, who has 16 years of college coaching experience. “I want someone to turn the film on and say, ‘These dudes play hard.’ We’re blue-collar and don’t care about getting any kind of accolades. We’re just playing hard, playing smart and mainly playing physical. I want us to be THE most physical offensive line in the country.
“It means something to be an o-lineman here; it means something to be one of the starting five,” he concluded. “That’s the way we’re playing right now, and I just have to continue to push that.”