COLUMBIA, Mo. – Maybe the switch would do it.
West Virginia was optimistic that the offensive line might have a bit more spark to it this week when Chase Behrndt and Josh Sills reverted to their natural positions after Week 1.
“We felt like we didn’t get everything out of Josh at center that we can get out of him,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “We didn’t get the movement we wanted out of center and Chase has been doing better with his snaps, so we moved them hoping we could get more movement. We had to see if we have different lineups that make us better.”
Behrndt, playing his first college game in his home state, moved back to the starting center spot he was demoted from in the middle of training camp. Sills, who started at center against James Madison, flipped to right guard. Sills was an all-conference left guard a year ago.
Instead, West Virginia’s running game sputtered even more than it did against the Dukes. The Mountaineers somehow outdid themselves, averaging 0.9 yards per carry a week after gaining only 1.4 per carry.
“We came out and laid another egg,” Moore said.
Adding insult to insult was the fact Missouri ranked 125th nationally in run defense after allowing 297 yards to Wyoming last week.
Running back Kennedy McKoy, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year, might run into less traffic during a Manhattan rush hour. He has 18 carries for 12 yards through West Virginia’s first two games – an average of 0.67 yards per carry.
There is no simple solution.
“As coaches we can do some different things,” Brown said. “But at the end of the day we have to win at point of contact. We very seldom ran the ball when it wasn’t in motion. We did some things Wyoming had success with. Obviously [Missouri was] better-prepared today.
“We’re a team right now that really struggles to run the ball. If you struggle to run, they can pin their ears and come.”
West Virginia’s offensive line depth is so dire that the five guys playing are the only five guys able to play. Neal Brown isn’t ready to throw untested freshmen into the deep end until he’s sure they have a paddle.
“The guys behind them have to get better,” Brown said. “Those guys didn’t play great, but no one behind them showed they are ready to play. That’s an issue we have. We have to get those guys better.”
The goal is to have multiple second-string linemen capable of making a positive contribution by the end of the season, but the coaching staff does not believe they are there yet.
“We have some real young players that look like they’ll be real good, but they’re in a developmental stage,” Moore said. “You get a little hesitant about grabbing a new guy and putting him in. We’ve got to get better with the guys who are out there.”
For now, the lone option available is to project confidence in a trio of players – Behrndt, left guard Mike Brown and right tackle Kelby Wickline – who have a combined 11 career starts.
“Just keep on track and know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Sills said. “It might not be now or two games from now. But hopefully by the last game of the year, we can look back on the season and know that we’ve gotten better. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You have to chase that.”