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Holgorsen, Gibson issue challenge to defensive line

Expect a “battle in the trenches” in Lubbock

NCAA Football: Tennessee at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Dana Holgorsen is not quite sold on his defensive line’s play this year. Though he sees the improvement and has noted their work ethic, he believes they have not yet been challenged.

“I want to see if our d-line can get after the QB,” Holgorsen proclaimed in his press conference on Tuesday.

Saturday’s matchup between the Mountaineers (3-0, 1-0) and the Red Raiders (3-1, 1-0) looms large in his mind. Holgorsen issued this challenge ahead of a game against what he believes is the best offensive line the Mountaineers will have faced this season young season.

An interesting thought, given WVU has played SEC and Bill Snyder-coached offensive lines so far in 2018. Texas Tech’s offensive line, according to Holgorsen will be the best his defense has faced all season.

The prolific Red Raider offense “starts with those guys up front,” according to Holgorsen.

“(Offensive line coach Brandon Jones) does a good job and has been there for two years now, so their continuity has been good. Getting coached up really well and they’re all back.”

Nine of the 20 Tech offensive linemen are juniors or seniors and have been taught by Jones for two seasons. The improvement up front has been noticeable for the Red Raiders.

Tech has only allowed four sacks and 22 tackles for loss through four games in 2018. This has allowed freshman QB Alan Bowman to complete more than 72 percent of his passes and toss 10 touchdowns.

So far, Tech has amassed nearly 2,500 yards in total offense, including 1,743 yards through the air in 2018. The scary part of this O-line play is 16 rushing touchdowns. Tech only scored 19 touchdowns on the ground in 2017.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson echoed the challenge to his defensive line to get into the backfield to disrupt a high-tempo offense and allow his pass coverage to be effective. “That’s where it all stems from,” Gibson said.

An uncomfortable quarterback is more prone to making errors, but Texas Tech has made sure their true freshman gunslinger can stay upright. That is easier said than done with Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.

“He doesn’t hold the ball long enough,” said Gibson, “he gets it out quick and does a really good job with it. They’re not gonna let you hit their QB.”

That fast tempo tends to wear down teams and makes getting into the backfield nearly impossible. However, Gibson says this will be a challenge because he won’t be able to commit too many players to rush the QB.

“We’re made to face this kind of offense and hopefully our kids will be ready for the test,” said Gibson. “It’s going to be a tough one, but hopefully our kids will be ready to stand up and fight them.”

“We’ve got to take some things away from them and see what this D-line is made of,” Holgorsen said. “I want to see if our D-line can get after the QB. That helps your pass (defense) more than anything.”

That challenge falls as much at the feet of the “big uglies” for WVU’s defense as it does on the coaching staff.

“What we’ve gotta do is win up front,” said Gibson, the coordinator of the 3-3-5 defense. “That’s easy to say, but a lot harder to do when you only have three down (linemen)... This week is probably not going to be a time when you see four down, based on what they do with formations and personnel packages.”

Though it sounds cliché, this will truly be a battle in the trenches between WVU and TTU, to see which front will be able to move the other around.