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West Virginia's Struggles Start with the Offensive Line

The offensive line has not quite developed where it need to be

There was optimism heading into the season the Mountaineer rushing attack would take another step forward after nearly doubling their output from year one to year two under head coach Neal Brown. West Virginia ran for a mere 73.3 yards per game in 2019 with an average of 2.6 yards per attempt to 135.1 YPG and 3.5 YPA last year. This season, production has dropped to 108.3 YPG and 3.2 YPA.

West Virginia lost offensive linemen starters, center Chase Behrndt and guard Mike Brown. However, they returned redshirt junior James Gmiter, redshirt sophomore Brandon Yates and sophomore Zach Frazier, although they moved him over to center.

"I think Zach Frazier is playing winning football, maybe at an all-conference level. I think James Gmiter is playing really good football. He had one poor protection against Texas Tech but other than that, playing football at a high level but everybody else, we got to play better."

The right side of the line has two new faces. Doug Nester transferred in from Virginia Tech and redshirt sophomore Parker Moorer took over the starting right side and has been splitting snaps between true freshman Wyatt Milum.

The hope was Nester could just fill in without losing a step and the thought on the right side was/is that Parker Moorer, along with others not name Gmiter and Frazier, had developed enough to get the job done. However, it has not worked thus far. The right side has yet to gel and has been exposed in nearly every single game.

"That's the hardest position [offensive line] to get right, and it takes time," said Brown. "You don't want to hear that - nobody wants to hear that, but the truth is, it takes time. And we have not performed well enough on the right side."

"Some of it is a technique issue, some of it is from a schematic standpoint, we got to do a better job taking care of them, which is on me. And we're repeating some of the same mistakes. What we're playing is what we got – those are the people that are ready. [Left tackle] Ja'Quay Hubbard has shown some improvement. He may be a guy that's potentially ready to play, but other than that, the guys that are out there, those are the best we got, and we got to get them better."

An almost seemingly step backward for the group upfront is a tough reality. The hope coming into the season, the young guys had developed enough to be successful and now, it appears it may take a little longer to get the offensive line to where it needs to be. 

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Statistically, West Virginia had success under former head coach Dana Holgorsen but when needed to run out the clock, the running game was near nonexistent which led to blown leads. For example, at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in 2018. At the time, some of the criticism went to newly hired offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who took over play calling duties after Dana had arguably had one of his best seasons as a head coach, leading the Mountaineers to a 10-2 record in 2016 behind a running game averaging 228.4 yards per game. However, in the matchup against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hurricanes dominated the line of scrimmage and it showed in the box score with a total of 95 yards on the ground and on the scoreboard, 31-14.

In short, Neal Brown wants to win at the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis, something that has not been done in quite some time in Morgantown. And yes, to reiterate Brown, it's going to take some time and there are examples all over but here are a few that has caught my eye but all have different circumstances, and none are the same but one common denominator, the offensive line. 

Dave Aranda took over a program that was run by Matt Rhule, the current Carolina Panther head coach. He made the switch from an Air Raid to what you see today, the RPO, which West Virginia is currently going through. Rhule went 1-11 his first year before righting the ship and in year three, finished 11-2 and an appearance in the Big 12 Championship. However, he had a talented young quarterback in Charlie Brewer, although he would transfer to Utah after one year under Aranda but the foundation had already been built.

Then, there's Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. He inherited former Mountaineer offensive line coach Rick Trickett off of Bobby Bowden's staff. Trickett was the architect behind the o-line during West Virginia's first two years with Pat White. Once Jimbo took the reigns, they quickly turned a reeling FSU program around and captured a national title in 2014 in their fourth season together. Trickett had been in the program eight years at that point.

West Virginia used the Spread under Rich Rodriguez and Air Raid under Dana to tip the scales of talent disparity, claiming they could not get big bodies and as a result, always came up short to the more physical team. Athletic Director Shane Lyons, like the rest of us, saw the shortcomings and wanted change. He put his faith in Neal Brown to change the culture and get over the hump. The proven method of success is behind a physical run game. Whether Brown can get it done is obviously yet to be determined but either way, he's going to get his time and it just may take a little longer than expected to see the results. 

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