MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As badly as West Virginia’s offensive line appeared to struggle in realtime Saturday, the ensuing day’s click-and-rewind film study proved equally brutal.
“Yeah, it was bad,” said right tackle Curtis Feigt.
During a 37-0 loss that served as WVU’s first shutout since 2001, the offensive line accomplished virtually nothing against Maryland’s first-team defense. Seven of West Virginia’s 25 rushing attempts netted no gain or lost yardage, and the wilting pass protection left Ford Childress without a pocket. Though Childress’ interceptions were undeniably poor decisions by the redshirt freshman, each was thrown under heavy pressure.
After a preseason in which coaches promoted offensive line depth as a strength, should WVU forego its seven-man rotation and stick with the starting five? Line coach Ron Crook says no.
“We’re staying the course. We’re not going to hit the panic button,” he said Tuesday night. “We’re not going to change who we are or what we do.
“We believe in the people we’ve been putting on the field.”
Those people don’t project to be NFL-caliber—and to this juncture, it’s doubtful WVU’s line could crack the top half of the Big 12. Then again, it doesn’t require a collection of Outland Award candidates to function at a higher level than we saw Saturday, when Maryland’s defensive front created all kinds of disruption despite frequently being out-numbered.
During previous stints as an assistant at Stanford and Harvard, Crook recalled occasional games where the line play was inadequate. The bounce-back weeks, he emphasized, weren’t achieved by knee-jerk overreactions. (“You stay with what you believe in,” Crook said.)
Yet head coach Dana Holgorsen included the offensive line in his assertion earlier Tuesday that players need to be more relaxed and less fearful of committing mistakes. Playing relaxed can be a difficult philosophy to reconcile for an offensive line coach, whose players are smashing and wrestling at max-intensity each time the ball is snapped. Yet Crook imparted some useful elements from his boss’ message.
“You stress why they started playing football when they were young—because it was fun,” Crook said. “That doesn’t mean every aspect of practice is fun; certainly going out there and working a drive block drill for 10 minutes isn’t fun. But understand that’s part of the process to have a successful game Saturday, which is fun.”
These spread offense concepts, which to some degree were designed to assist mediocre offensive lines, could be better leveraged as West Virginia returns to its uptempo pace. Maybe Childress, after huddling up during his first two college starts, is more prepared to move into go-fast mode.
Said Crook: “It helps (offensive linemen) because it wears the defense down—makes them run more, makes them tired so they can’t rush the passer as hard.”
Of course, it’s impossible to establish rhythm and pace when the offense fails to pick up a first down, as was the case on eight of 12 West Virginia drives against Maryland.
“We did some good things, but mostly bad things, and we came in here Sunday and learned from it,” said center/guard Pat Eger. “We just need to get better at everything.”