O-line one of keys to WVU win
FORT WORTH, Texas - Earlier this week, Dana Holgorsen was talking about the importance of offensive line play and how in West Virginia's case it had been getting better, but not good enough.
"It's still inconsistent. They're still learning to play together and still improving," Holgorsen said. "I am pleased with their effort and their attitude and their will to get better and continuously try to improve.''
Well, chalk up Saturday's 30-27 overtime win against TCU as a huge step forward for that offensive line. It might very well be the reason West Virginia didn't lose its fourth game in a row, perhaps by a lopsided margin the way things were going.
Here's the deal: With about 20 minutes gone in the game, TCU was just flat dominating West Virginia. Not only was the Horned Frogs' offense slicing through the WVU defense, the Mountaineer offense could get nothing going. Five possessions had produced four first downs and just 58 yards. WVU had managed to avoid being shut out (it was 17-3) only because TCU turned the ball over on the game's opening play.
Then some way, somehow, West Virginia's offense just exploded. Getting the ball on its own 13, Charles Sims ran for 29 yards, Clint Trickett hit Mario Alford for 27 and Sims then sliced into the open field for 31 yards and a touchdown. Three plays. Eighty-seven yards. Offensive problem solved.
The thanks, according to Holgorsen, goes to the offensive line.
"We challenged the offensive linemen on the sideline,'' Holgorsen said. "And they [responded by saying], 'Well, run this instead of that.' ''
So that's what Holgorsen did. The linemen looked at what TCU was doing on defense and kind of knew that the plays that were being called were running right into the Horned Frogs' strengths. So they suggested other plays and they worked.
And, well, they blocked them better, too.
"We challenged them and then we went out and hit [TCU] with a big play [Sims' first run],'' Holgorsen said. "Then Clint threw the post the way he's supposed to and we ran the same run play again and scored.
"It's not like we ran plays we hadn't run all year, but we did run a few plays that we hadn't run in this game here.''
It's not as if the offense just exploded from that point on, but it was noticeably more effective. After gaining those 58 yards on the first five series over the first quarter and five minutes of the second, the Mountaineers gained 357 over the rest of the game and finished with 415. Sims was a huge contributor with 154 rushing yards and three catches for 35 yards. Daikiel Shorts was once again Trickett's favorite receiver with six catches for 98 yards.
In truth, it was late in the third quarter and into the fourth before the offense finally made its mark again, but that's when it began looking like a respectable offense and not a struggling mess.
"They did some things we didn't expect on defense, but we adjusted to it,'' Trickett said.
Of course, TCU and WVU's defense helped. Two of West Virginia's three touchdowns and two of the three field goals came after TCU turnovers. No less than three times on Saturday did TCU turn the ball over on the first play of a possession. And when it mattered most in overtime, the Horned Frogs held onto the ball but went the wrong direction, forcing a 62-yard field goal try that failed.
"You have to give credit to West Virginia for coming back and doing the things they did,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "But to be honest with you we gave one away. That is about as simple as I can tell you how it is.
"Fumble on the 2-yard line, personal foul in overtime. We set ourselves back a couple times and had four turnovers. You're not going to win many ball games doing that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.