Opinions on West Virginia offensive line run gamut
West Virginia's offensive line has helped running back Noel Devine, center, rush for 223 yards this season.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Falling in line with many debates in sports, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Is the West Virginia offensive line playing as poorly as some fans believe? Probably not.
Conversely, don't mistake the line -- after two wins, anyway -- for a unit that has battered, bruised and bullied the opposition in precision-like fashion.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart thinks he has found the proper way to put it, the correct middle ground: "No, they've not played as poorly [as some contend]. ... I don't want to say they are [Fordham's famed] Seven Blocks of Granite at this point, but they are a work in progress."
From left to right, tackle Don Barclay, guard Josh Jenkins, center Joe Madsen, guard Eric Jobe and tackle Jeff Braun -- plus backup Cole Bowers, who has seen plenty of action -- have come under heavy scrutiny.
Have they played well?
Have they played average?
Or, have they been dreadful?
Consider the highlights first:
• Running back Noel Devine has rushed for more than 100 yards in both games. He is third among conference backs in rushing with 223 yards.
• The Mountaineers lead the Big East Conference in passing yards per game at 266, and quarterback Geno Smith is first among Big East quarterbacks in yards passing -- more than 30 yards ahead of Pitt's Tino Sunseri.
• The offensive line didn't allow a hit on Smith Friday as West Virginia mounted drives of 96 and 98 yards in the final six minutes of regulation to force a tie against Marshall. The Mountaineers won in overtime.
• Finally, there is this from offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen: "And statistics are lies," he said. "We are 2-0. How about that one?"
Now, the other side:
• One can't ignore the level of competition the Mountaineers have played in arriving at their 2-0 record. West Virginia needed overtime to beat a Conference-USA team that is winless and beat a widely overmatched Coastal Carolina team on opening day.
• The Mountaineers had back-to-back false starts by offensive linemen on that crucial final drive in regulation against Marshall. The Mountaineers found a way to score, but against a better team, it could have been disastrous.
• The Mountaineers are fifth in the Big East in rushing yards per game, at 168.5. Syracuse (157), Cincinnati (139) and Pitt (125.5) are the teams in the conference with fewer, but all three are considered to have played tougher opening schedules.
• Against Marshall, West Virginia got a 23-yard run by fullback Ryan Clarke just before halftime to reach 57 yards rushing in the first half.
So there is the data for the debate.
In regard to the Marshall game, West Virginia offensive line coach Dave Johnson takes responsibility, knowing his group needs to play better.
"Did they play poorly? At times," Johnson said. "But overall we're making progress, and not to make any excuses, but we had one film to go on. They know all of our calls. They know our offense. How many coaches did they have on their staff [with WVU ties]?"
Marshall's staff is headed by former WVU assistant John "Doc" Holliday.
Mullen understands criticism comes with his job as coordinator.
"I've learned something after being here for three years," he said. "It doesn't matter what you do, something is getting criticized. That much I know. Win, lose or draw."
First Published September 16, 2010 12:00 am