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WVU Football: Five “Must Improve” Areas On Offense - Offensive Line

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As fall camp opens, the Mountaineers look to overcome the program’s worst season since 2001. WVU's offensive line must improve as they begin their third Big 12 campaign.

Offensive line looks to Quinton Spain's leadership.
Offensive line looks to Quinton Spain's leadership.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

This is the first in a series of five articles that discuss WVU's offense.  This article examines the offensive line.

Offensive Line Play: Production

By any measurement, last season's line was a below average unit.  Dana Holgorsen has never coached an offense with so little firepower.  Nationally, WVU ranked 79th in scoring, 82nd in rushing, and 62nd in total offense.  The Mountaineer offense ranked an abysmal 85th in sacks allowed, 97th in tackles for loss allowed, 113th in third down conversions and dead last - 123rd out of 123 teams - in fourth down conversions.

Production dropped off to the dreaded Jeff Mullen days.  Here's how 2013 compared to the last seven years.

Offensive Production Over Last Seven Years

Year/Head Coach

Points

Total Offense

Passing Yards

Rushing Yards

Sacks Allowed

2013 Holgorsen

26.3

411

262

149

28

2012 Holgorsen

39.5

502

330

172

22

2011 Holgorsen

37.6

470

347

123

26

2010 Stewart

25.2

373

213

160

27

2009 Stewart

26.2

377

191

186

24

2008 Stewart

24.5

360

150

210

18

2007 Rodriquez

39.6

456

159

297

13

Compared to the rest of the Big 12, here's how poorly WVU's offense struggled last season.

2013 Big 12 Offensive Production (conference ranking in parentheses)

Team

Points

Total Offense

Passing Yards

Rushing Yards

Sacks Allowed

Tackles for Loss Allowed

Baylor

52.4 (1)

619 (1)

359 (2)

260 (1)

22 (4)

67 (4)

Iowa State

24.8 (9)

363 (8)

219 (7)

144 (8)

38 (10)

94 (10)

Kansas

15.3 (10)

295 (10)

140 (10)

154 (6)

30 (8)

90 (8)

Kansas State

33.2 (4)

403 (7)

225 (6)

178 (4)

26 (6)

80 (5)

Oklahoma

32.8 (5)

423 (4)

199 (9)

224 (2)

15 (2)

50 (2)

Oklahoma St

39.1 (2)

449 (3)

277 (3)

172 (5)

14 (1)

45 (1)

Texas

29.3 (6)

409 (6)

212 (8)

196 (3)

16 (3)

82 (7)

TCU

25.1 (8)

345 (9)

226 (5)

119 (9)

24 (5)

61 (3)

Texas Tech

35.8 (3)

511 (2)

393 (1)

118 (10)

33 (9)

92 (9)

WVU

26.3 (7)

411 (5)

262 (4)

149 (7)

28 (7)

81 (6)

WVU's offense ranked in the bottom half of the conference in points, rushing yards, sacks allowed and tackles for loss allowed.

That cannot happen again for the team to improve upon its 4-8 record from a season ago.  It's no surprise that Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State finished first, second and third in the conference.  Prolific offense starts with solid line play.

Offensively, WVU needs to be in the top half of conference stats in points, total yards, passing yards and sacks allowed to be competitive.  Holgorsen's high flying air raid offense intentionally keeps rushing  attempts down.  However, with the staple of solid running backs that Holgorsen has in Smith, Shell, Garrison and Buie (also Smallwood, depending upon his legal situation), there is hope for the Mountaineers to rank in the upper half of conference rushing yards.

A lot will depend upon how opposing defenses choose to play WVU (daring Trickett to pass in man-to-man coverage), the accuracy of Trickett, and offensive line play.

Protection Breakdowns

There were too many breakdowns last year in quarterback protection.  Two stats that reveal these are fumbles and sacks.

WVU fumbled the ball 22 times last season. 14 of those 22 fumbles were recovered by WVU's opponents.

Of the team's 22 fumbles, 15 were from the quarterbacks in the backfield.  Of those 14 fumble recoveries, eight were lost by quarterbacks in the backfield.

Regarding sacks, of the 28 sacks allowed last season, 40% of them occurred on third down (11).  WVU's linemen must find a way to give more time to the quarterback in pass protection, as the Mountaineers averaged almost eight yards (7.8) to gain on third down.  WVU ranked 115th nationally in this third down yardage conversion category.  When it came to converting third and long, WVU only made four first downs on 31 attempts (13%) on the ground.  The Mountaineers got a first down on only 21 of 77 passing attempts for a 27% success rate.  It's hard to sustain drives with those kind of numbers.

Short Yardage Situations

WVU's offensive line also struggled in third down and short situations.  The Mountaineers only converted 16 of 34 first down rushing attempts on 3rd/4th and three yards or less.  WVU couldn't convert third and short situations in critical games against both Texas and Iowa State late in the season.  WVU lost both of those games in overtime.

Here are WVU's short yardage stats from the last seven years.

WVU Offensive Short Yardage Situations (three yards or less to gain a first down)

Year

Attempts

First Downs

Conversion %

2013

34

16

47

2012

57

26

46

2011

41

22

54

2010

49

33

67

2009

35

21

60

2008

62

34

55

2007

39

22

56

Sustaining drives on third and short builds offensive confidence, destroys the opponent's defensive psyche, keeps WVU's defense rested and leads to many more red zone opportunities.

Diagnosis

WVU's offensive line struggled primarily for two reasons last season.  First, the line had to replace three veterans from the 2012 season in Braun, Madsen and Jenkins.  Second, Holgorsen's offensive line coach from his first two years, Bill Bedenbaugh, moved on to Oklahoma.  Thus, Holgorsen hired Ron Crook from Stanford as the new offensive line coach.  The Mountaineer linemen should be more comfortable in Crook's schemes with a year of experience under their belts.

Prognosis

This year's offense must replace three linemen in Eger, Feigt and Kindler.  The line will be young, with two sophomores (Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky) and junior Marquis Lucas joining seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski.  However, the three new additions to the line have experience.  Lucas started the first four games last season and played in 10.  Orlosky played in 11 games and started three, and Pankey played in seven games.

Senior Mark Glowinski is a solid veteran with two years at WVU (he redshirted the 2012 season) who started all 12 games and played a season high 842 snaps.  Quinton Spain is an Outland Trophy watch list nominee this season after being recognized as all Big-12 Honorable Mention from conference coaches last year.  Spain has played in all 38 games as a Mountaineer over his three seasons, starting 26 times.

Tomorrow's article will discuss quarterback play.

As always,

Let's Go, Mountaineers!

Series Links:

1.       Offensive Line Play

2.       Quarterback Play

3.       Efficiency

4.       Red Zone Efficiency

5.       Turnovers

*Information/stats for this article come from the following sources:  wvusports.com, cfbstats.com, ncaa.com, espn.go.com, WVUStats.com, philsteele.com, Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview, Lindy's Sports College Football 2014 Preview, Athlon Sports College Football 2014 National Edition, and USA Today Sports 2014 College Football Preview.