Solution for WVU line: work harder
MORGANTOWN - It was bound to happen sooner or later.
After West Virginia's offensive line crashed and burned early in the season, it steadily improved and then began regressing a bit. The first chink in the armor came when Connecticut's defense manhandled the Mountaineers.
That wasn't too noticeable, though, because West Virginia still managed to beat the Huskies by a country mile. But then came Syracuse.
Granted, there were more problems than offensive line play in a 49-23 WVU loss. There are ways to get around that - the quarterback switching into different plays or getting rid of the football and receivers adjusting routes.
"It's everybody,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "But one of the biggest problems with what was happening was when they brought pressure, our O-line just got whipped. That goes back to who was playing harder. It was very evident to me on tape that they were playing much, much harder than we were, which is disturbing.''
It's also something that has to be corrected - or at least improved upon - before West Virginia (5-2, 1-1 Big East) plays Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.
How? Well, that's a good question.
Holgorsen claims that West Virginia's offensive line was targeted correctly. In other words, there weren't Syracuse defenders running free because they were unblocked. And for the most part that was true.
Instead, those Orange defenders simply overpowered WVU's offensive linemen.
Had it been the other way around - missed assignments being the problem - there would be some easy fixes. Coaches coach harder and players listen better. They target the right defenders and they block them.
"If they're missing and blowing [assignments] and going the wrong way and guys are coming free, I can correct that,'' said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "But that's not the case. It's just about going out there and having the confidence and believing and doing everything you possibly can to get the job done.''
If guys aren't missing blocks, the only answer is to block better. While that sounds simple, it's not, of course. It would be nice to be able to plug in linemen who are bigger and stronger, but West Virginia basically has only five or six the coaches trust to get the assignments right.
So you just have to work them harder.
"It's reps,'' Bedenbaugh said. "It's just like anything else in football, really anything in life. If there's something you're not good at you have to continually work it over and over and over again. That's the only thing that matters in football. The more you rep it, the better you get, the more confident and comfortable you get with it.''
That message seems to have gotten through to the linemen.
"You really can't get better except in your mentality,'' said left tackle Don Barclay, who had his troubles with massive defensive end Chandler Jones at Syracuse. "It's a want-to type thing, and they wanted it more than we did. We have to prove everyone wrong this week and [show them] we can do that.''
In Rutgers, the Mountaineers will face a similar challenge. The Scarlet Knights rank sixth in the nation in sacks, and even if they hadn't planned on putting extra pressure on quarterback Geno Smith before, they certainly do now after seeing the success Syracuse had.
"Everyone's going to blitz us,'' Barclay said. "We just have to pick it up. We just have to finish our blocks.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.