Is O-line headed for shakeup or will starters sharpen up?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Dana Holgorsen and assistant Ron Crook essentially re-opened the competition for starting jobs along the offensive line this week, none of the players should have been stunned.

After all, West Virginia’s inability to run the ball until the score was out of hand against TCU warranted some of the blame for last Thursday’s 40-10 loss. Against a defense that allowed 11 rushing touchdowns to Texas Tech and Kansas State, the Mountaineers scored zero, and their conversion rate on third-down runs was 0-for-3.

In truth, issues that had existed for weeks—lapses in technique, struggles to execute against defensive line twists—forced coaches to consider changes. After all, as junior center Tyler Orlosky admitted: “Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity, and I don’t want to be insane over here.”

Orlosky’s job appears secure, and the talk of personnel changes may be more of a warning than one that leads to substantial shuffling. Senior Stone Underwood and third-year sophomores Grant Lingafelter and Marcell Lazard appear to be the only backups approaching game-readiness. (Neither Lingafelter or Lazard has seen meaningful action, and with an eye toward developing the line for 2016, would coaches bench a future returnee to start Underwood at his career’s end?)

“We’re trying to find the best five. We’re going to rotate guys around,” Crook said. “There’s a good chance we’re going to see new starters. It all depends on how it plays out. It’s about the best mix and who plays best together. Those decisions probably won’t be made until later in the week.”

What appears to be a certainty is that Adam Pankey will be used exclusively on the interior. He spent two years at left tackle, moved to guard this season and then flexed out to tackle again when Yodny Cajuste’s foot injury flared up before the TCU game. By all accounts, Pankey endured rough night in Fort Worth.

Former WVU offensive lineman Jeff Braun’s highlighted some of Pankey’s struggles in the accompanying video, and Orlosky empathized with his line mate’s issues.

“Pankey’s better at guard. He had to go out there (to tackle) for that week, and he struggled a little bit. But you take a guy who played guard for five or six games and put him at tackle, he probably did better than I would’ve.”

Crook suggested the plan to utilize Pankey’s versatility ultimately “hurt him personally and hurt us as a group.” Barring necessity, no longer will the junior be forced to move out to a spot where he’s uncomfortable. “Let him play where he’s best,” Crook said.

Lingafelter,used primarily at guard so far, was slated to take reps at tackle to determine if he could spell Cajuste, who’s availability for Saturday’s game against Texas Tech remains unspecified. Lazard has worked exclusively at tackle, and could be an option behind Cajuste on the left side or as rotational player with senior Marquis Lucas at right tackle.

Wendell Smallwood’s individual success (113 yards per game) and the team’s 208 yards rushing overall rank third in the league. Yet West Virginia’s ground game hasn’t actually been that efficient—it’s 4.3 yards per carry are only seventh in the Big 12.

Red-zone running problems partly account for WVU scoring only 17 touchdowns in 31 trips—next to last in the league. Though TCU only registered one sack, the Mountaineers rank 109th in the FBS at 2.86 per game.

“The small things matter,” Orlosky said. “You take the wrong step, or you don’t step far enough or you don’t get the leverage you need on a guy and it puts you out of position.”

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