This will be an ongoing series with WVSN’s Cody Nespor and Tom Bragg grading the performance of each position group during the 2020 West Virginia University football season.
Following a lackluster 2019 and in need of two new starting tackles, offensive line was probably the biggest question mark for West Virginia coming into this season. The line made progress this season and there were some standouts, but there was also some inconsistency and disappointment.
The interior of the line took a massive step from 2019. Mike Brown, Chase Behrndt and Zach Frazier all earned All-Big 12 honors and the Mountaineers nearly doubled their average rushing yards from 73.3 per game in 2019 to 135.1. Frazier, a product of Fairmont, was especially impressive as the rare true freshman starter. Tackle was a different story, however. Brandon Yates was solid at left tackle, but right tackle was a bit of a rotating door with Junior Uzebu, John Hughes and Parker Moorer all seeing time.
The good news is that Frazier, Yates and Moorer are all underclassmen and should continue to develop as their careers progress. The bad news is WVU will again need to replace starters with Behrndt and Brown announcing they will not return in 2021.
I like to trust my eyes to an extent when evaluating football play, but having some numbers to fall back on never hurts. For offensive line play, I turn to The Football Outsiders for some nuance:
- West Virginia (2.27) ranked ranked 113th out of 127 teams in FO’s Line Yards per Carry statistic where the line gets credit for rushing yardage between 0-3 yards (instead of 0-4) and 50% credit for yards 4-8 (instead of 5-10). Anything over 8 yards is quantified as a highlight opportunity, and credit goes to the runner. Lost yardage counts for 125 percent and garbage time is filtered out for all line yardage averages.
- WVU’s Stuff Rate (percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage) was 19.5 percent — good for 80th out of 127. The Mountaineers’ Opportunity Rate ( The percentage of carries when four yards are available that gain at least four yards — “the percentage of carries in which the line does its job”) was 39 percent — among the worst in the county at 122nd out of 127 teams.
- The pass blocking numbers painted a slightly better picture. WVU’s sack rate on all non-garbage time pass attempts (5.4 percent) ranked 46th in the country.
If you skipped over that: WVU’s pass blocking was OK but the run blocking was not very good — which makes Leddie Brown’s success running the ball even more impressive.
Individually West Virginia’s offensive line play had some bright spots and good stories but also showed inexperience and inconsistency in spots.
Mike Brown rise from a guy who had never played organized football just a few years ago to an All-Big 12 selection this season is one of the better stories you’ll find anywhere in college football. True freshman Zach Frazier again proved why wrestlers make great offensive lineman as the former Fairmont Senior Polar Bear four-time West Virginia high school wrestling state champion emerged as a breakout star and Chase Behrndt did well to battle some adversity and come out an All-Big 12 pick on the other side.
The WVU tackles were sometimes shaky, more often on the right side where John Hughes, Junior Uzebu and Parker Moorer all split time. Brandon Yates was decent for a freshman at left tackle but more will be asked from him if he stays there in the future.
A step in the right direction for this group in 2020, but they’re far from where they want to ultimately be.