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Mountaineers Counting on Offensive Line for Success Against Virginia Tech

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West Virginia head coach Neal Brown has taken great pride in building up his offensive line to the high standard it sits at today.

In fact, it has been a four-year process for Brown and his staff to get the group to grow and get to his level of expectations.

“When we got here in 2019, the numbers were low,” Brown said. “We had very few guys that had really played and had experience. We made the decision to go young before the COVID year (2020). They played, struggled a little, but they made progress.”

The group continued to develop over the last two seasons, and with the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Doug Nester, West Virginia now has a veteran five-man front that is capable of setting up the Mountaineers’ offense.

West Virginia’s 2021 campaign was considered average, finishing its regular season .500 before dropping its bowl game to end the year. The line showed flashes of its skill set, helping the offense do something Brown loves — run the ball.

“We played well at times, but we were a little inconsistent,” Brown said. “We ran the ball well against the teams we should have, but we struggled against good defenses.”

The Mountaineers have turned their offensive fortunes in a positive direction through three games this season, despite being 1-2. West Virginia has averaged 46 points and 509.7 yards per game.

Granted, the stats ran higher after the Mountaineers’ lopsided win over FCS opponent Towson this past week, but West Virginia still turned in solid offensive performances against Pittsburgh and Kansas, particularly on the ground.

West Virginia ran for 190 and 146 yards, respectively, versus the Panthers and Jayhawks’ stout defense before busting for 316 yards on Towson.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve said this is gonna have to be the heard and soul of this team, especially in this offense,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said of his offensive line. “There’s so much experience there. They play hard. The whole team looks to those guys to give us a better chance.”

West Virginia will now turn its attention to Virginia Tech’s multiple defense on Thursday night. The Hokies, led by senior linebacker Dax Hollifield, boast a strong defensive line and much experience like the Mountaineers.

“They like to pressure,” Brown said. “They’re really good on the defensive line. Their mike linebacker (Hollifield) is also solid. He played good versus us last year.”

Hollifield recorded 10 tackles, eight solo, in West Virginia’s 27-21 victory over Virginia Tech last season. He also added one tackle for loss and a sack.

The Mountaineers were able to run for 173 yards in the win, including 161 on just 19 carries from Leddie Brown.

Harrell understands what the Hokies’ gameplan will be to try and contain his offense, but remains confident his front five will be able to create space.

“They’re gonna put an emphasis on stopping the run,” Harrell said of Virginia Tech. “They play hard and have extensive personnel. So far, we’ve done a good job understanding of how we’re gonna attack. That’ll be important for us.”

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