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5 things WVU football did this spring to help its offense

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Now that we have spring practice and the National Football League draft out of the way, the time has come to look at West Virginia’s football team as it heads into the summer.

We will start today with the offense and the five areas of most concern coming out of last season, looking at if it has been improved and, if so, how.

A year ago, WVU finished 82nd of 127 teams in the nation in points scored, averaging just 26.7 points per game, which ranked it 8th in the Big 12.

The prime villain here was the run game, which averaged just 135.1 yards per contest, 92nd in the nation despite having a 1,000-yard rusher in Leddie Brown.

And while statistically WVU’s passing attack wasn’t bad, averaging 277.5 yards per game, which ranked 28th in the nation and third in the Big 12, with a 63.1 completion percentage, 50th in the NCAA, they threw just 16 touchdown passes, 30 fewer than Florida, which led the nation.

Let us make no doubt that the offense and its improvement was a major objective of the spring.


No. 1 — It seemed strange, the last two years, that WVU had a weakness up front, especially when you looked at NFL rosters at the end of last year and found that of 11 Mountaineers on NFL rosters, five of them were offensive linemen.

Neal Brown set out to change that and seems to have not only remade the offensive line, but put it together to last a while.

Why should they be better this year?

To begin with, they revolve around their freshman All-American Zach Frazier, a true sophomore who last year spent most of his time at guard, a position he had not played before.

Frazier at center gives them the potential to have their best center since Dan Mozes unanimously won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center in 2006, 15 years ago.

“That kid, he’s a football guru,” offensive line coach Matt Moore said. ‘He loves it. He likes to dissect plays. “He and his dad — — his dad played football at Fairmont State and loves football, too — that’s their deal together. They don’t go golfing or fishing. They sit around watching old WVU games and talking about who the middle linebacker is and who the three-technique guy is and who they need to double team.”

He had to move to guard last year because James Gmiter, another star in waiting, had to sit out with Covid-19 complications. Gmiter is full strength and eager to prove himself.

What’s more, WVU picked up an important and versatile transfer from Virginia Tech in state native Doug Nester, who will play either at right tackle or right guard but comes with a reputation for toughness and with starting experience.

“Right now, I feel with our two deep we can function as well as we’ve ever functioned with a second group out there,” Moore said. “We’re not allowing run-throughs and not allowing sacks that kill plays We’re allowing our skill guys to make plays.”

Put those guys in there with returning starter Michael Yates at the one tackle and with Jordan White or John Hughes you have a tough, athletic, young functional offensive line that should open holes for Leddie Brown and give quarterback Jarret Doege time to operate in the pocket at quarterback.

No. 2 — Quarterback play has to get better, and it probably will from addressing what goes on around him ... the “him” almost certainly being Doege.

It starts with that improved defensive line but there’s a receiving crew that dropped a lot of passes last year. Dropped passes either keep the offense from making plays in key situations or from setting up key situations.

Again, it has been a young receiving corps that now is experienced and over this spring seemed to sort itself out into roles.

Perhaps the key isp the real veteran of the group, Bryce Ford-Wheaton. He has all the physical tools that the great receivers have but he hasn’t really believed in himself. That is what they worked on this spring, bringing out the best in him through positive thinking and creating a leadership role for him.

“I think just consistency, his confidence,” said head coach Neal Brown during the spring. “He’s had a great winter. He’s uber-talented, intelligent, he knows our offense inside and out and I think it’s time I think he’s ready to take the next step and I think he can be one of the better receivers in our league.”

If he rises up, he will bring the likes of Sam James and Sam Brown and Sean Ryan and Winston Wright Jr. with him.

And, thinking of improving production of explosive plays, WVU brought in a freshman from across the border in Maryland, Kaden Prather. This is a big play waiting to happen every time he is on the field, something he took little time proving as his first catch as a Mountaineer came in the spring game and was a 52-yard completion.

With Wright, Ford-Wheaton and Prather, WVU has the potential to bring the big passing play back to the offense.

No. 3 — Of course, explosive plays go back to the quarterback and Coach Neal Brown spent much time working on this with Doege, who has to clear out the memory of a dismal bowl performance against Army in which he had to be relieved to get WVU’s offense going.

Doege’s assets have been intelligence and accuracy on short passes, but now they expect better protection, improved receiving skills, more receivers as tight ends get in the mix and Leddie Brown out of the backfield becomes an option, all of which should expand what Doege can do..

What’s more, Brown has the option this year of changing the offense and well may try to find spots in every game to give Garrett Greene, his mobile quarterback with the big arm, a series or two to change the look and give the defense something to worry about.

No. 4 — Neal Brown has come to believe that its vital the tight ends take a big part in the offense, perhaps even to the point of going with what he calls 12 personnel and plays two tight end with two wide receivers, which gives the running game the boost of having better blocking and the passing game a different look with the tight end pressuring the safeties and linebackers, especially near the goal line and in short yardage situations.

He is so serious about this that he went has recruited tight ends aggressively and expanded the numbers.

The point was driven home to him last season when Iowa State hammered WVU and did so at times using three tight ends, causing terrible match-up situations for the defense.

“Iowa State has obviously had a lot of success using multiple tight end and operates mostly out of the 12-personnel set,” Brown said this spring. “We feel like in order to run the ball consistently, which I think is important — if you look at championship teams across the board, they’re able to stop the run and they’re able to run the football. To do that, you’ve got to have some tight ends, and this is the first time from a roster standpoint taht we’ve had multiple guys.”

O’Laughlin is the key man this year, his third at tight end after coming into WVU as a 210-pound high school wide receiver.

No. 5 — WVU did not let Leddie Brown get tackled this spring, because they know is abilities to break tackles and there’s a long, hard season in front of him.

But what they did do is they worked with him on a daily basis on running pass routes out of the backfield and catching the ball, believing he not only can help his NFL chances by bettering himself in those areas but he can add a strong new dimension to the offense by getting him outside on linebackers and safeties through the air.

“Me catching the ball more will catch the eye of the NFL scouts because that is what they are looking for now — backs gthat can run, catch, block ... the full package. That;s what I’m trying to shome them I can do,” Brown said.

A year ago, he caught 31 passes but averaged under 7 yards a catch. Brown would like to see that number increase and to do so he has to run routes better, getting himself open with room to operate.

“I think it’s safe to say that Leddie is a special player,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “We have to find ways to get the ball to him, both conventionally and then in different ways, such as allowing him to be a pass catcher at times.”