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WVU Hopes Improved Offensive Line Play Paves Way for Runners to Make Strides

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Photo: WVU Athletics

West Virginia’s struggles to run the ball last season have been well, well documented.

With game one of the 2020 season finally in sight, WVU head coach Neal Brown seems ready to finally see if the Mountaineers will be able to run the ball more effectively this season.

When asked Tuesday if he thinks the running game will be improved, Brown offered three simple words: “we better be”.

While we won’t be able to tell much from one game against an FCS opponent, WVU’s success, or lack thereof, running the ball against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday could set the tone for the entire season. Getting off on the right foot could prove that all the work Mountaineer coaches and players have put in this offseason was worth it.

WVU rushed for a conference-low 879 yards last season and only eclipsed 100 yards rushing twice all season.

“We still have a ways to go, as everyone does,” new offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “We still have improvements to make, but we’ve made the right steps, now the guys have to go out and do it and gain some confidence running the football.”

Parker said working to improve the running game was a joint effort between several coaches on WVU’s staff. Parker, Brown, offensive line coach Matt Moore, running backs coach Chad Scott, tight ends and inside receivers coach Travis Trickett and quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan have all put their heads together on this, according to Parker.

“It’s been really cool to get ahold of this new situation and get with a great staff…and really just dive into the run game,” Parker said. “We’ve all kind of grabbed a hold of this. We know we have to improve together in order to get where we want to go offensively and as a football team, we have to run it better. So it’s really been a good challenge for all of us to find what works for us and see the improvement.”

Shouldering the load this season will be returning running backs Leddie Brown, Alec Sinkfield and Tony Mathis. Brown is expected to get the majority of WVU’s carries this year.

After averaging just 2.6 yards per carry last season, starting left guard James Gmiter said the team’s goal this year is to be the most improved offensive line in the entire country.

“Our goal from last year, all through the offseason, to Saturday is going to be: to be the most improved offensive line in the country, and I truly believe that we will be,” Gmiter said. “We’ve put in a lot of work over the offseason, I trust everybody on the o-line and they all trust me…that we honestly will be the most improved o-line in the country.”

WVU’s starting offensive line will feature Junior Uzebu at left tackle, Gmiter at left guard, Chase Behrndt at center, Michael Brown at right guard and John Hughes at right tackle. Gmiter said the overall buy-in from this year’s group is better than a season ago and that the distance learning they were forced to do due to the coronavirus pandemic was actually beneficial to them. Gmiter said they spent all offseason in Zoom meetings learning and better understanding the team’s schemes and concepts.

The Mountaineers’ quest to be the most improved offensive line in the country begins Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Kickoff is at noon and the game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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