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West Virginia’s offense searching for answers up front

The Mountaineers’ ground game has been nonexistent.

West Virginia v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

West Virginia’s offense lost over 150 career starts to graduation following last season, and while the most notable individual departure is quarterback Will Grier, the Mountaineers have also been tasked with rebuilding the offensive line.

WVU lost over 60 starts up front, including a pair of guys who had started at least 25 games. It’s not easy to account for that under any circumstances, and doing so in the first year of a new coaching regime certainly doesn’t help.

This week, head coach Neal Brown says he plans on opening things up in practice because he hasn’t much cared for the line’s play through the first two games:

What we are going to do is, we are just going to give a bunch of guys opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we are going to make those jobs competitive. We have to figure out who the best five are up front. Outside of Colton McKivitz, I’m not real fired up about how any of them [offensive lineman] are playing.

Those are not encouraging remarks, and they give you a sense of why West Virginia’s rushing numbers are as bad as they are. The Mountaineers have 64 yards rushing on 56 carries (1.1 YPC) this season, and they’ve also surrendered 21 tackles for loss. Only three FBS teams have allowed more tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season.

The aforementioned McKivitz has over 30 career starts, and interior lineman Josh Sills has over 20 starts to his credit, but beyond them the Mountaineers are working with little experience. Here’s a glance at the OL from the game notes, with career starts at a given position in parentheses:

Sills has made a start at center and at right guard as the WVU coaching staff tries to sort out the best combination.

This is never a good place to be during a season, but it’s part of the growing pains that the Mountaineers’ new staff has to contend with as it re-makes the roster. Perhaps they’ll get things sorted by the latter half of the season, but right now, NC State is catching these guys at a good time.