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WVU Won the Battle in the Trenches, But Lost the War

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WVU faced off against one of the country’s top offensive and defensive lines in the entire country and outperformed them. Though ultimately losing the game.

It’s a little surprising that was the outcome, considering how many of us, including myself, thought that the game would be decided by winning at the line of scrimmage. The offensive and defensive lines were the strengths of both teams, and winning the battle of the strengths seems to set teams up for a victory.

Regardless there’s a lot of different factors that play into the outcome of a game as we all witnessed last night. This article obviously will only focus on the play by the offensive and defensive lines, which outperformed their counterparts last night despite their counterparts having two of the best such groups in the entire country.

There were highs and lows of the offensive line play from last night. For the lows Wyatt Milum, a highly touted tackle that switched from right to left side this off-season, struggled out of the gate. He had two false start penalties in the first quarter and a personal foul penalty midway through the second.

The first false start wasn’t as disastrous as the second, which came on a fourth-and-four play from the Pitt 39-yard line. The personal foul penalty also wasn’t a disaster, but it came when West Virginia was trying to get out of their own end zone. It only wasn’t a disaster because of a personal foul gift of Pitt’s own the next play that pushed them from the one-yard line to the 16.

The positive to take from Milum’s performance is that he settled down and controlled himself in the second half. But the star left tackle in a veteran offensive line group shouldn’t be making multiple of those kind of mental errors early. Even if it was week one and a big rivalry game, it was a poor start for Milum.

The offensive line as a whole though, played very well against a defensive line unit that had 54 sacks last year and allowed just 89 rushing yards a game last season. They returned almost everyone from that group, including three players that a could find themselves as All-Americans at the end of this season.

West Virginia allowed just three sacks, granted two of them came on the critical last drive of the game that made things extremely difficult for the West Virginia offense to tie things up.

Most impressively, they put up 190 rushing yards against Pitt, almost twice of the average they gave up last season. This coming in an offense that was supposedly an air raid scheme, although both head coach Neal Brown and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell spoke about improving the run this off-season.

So despite the early mental errors by Milum, the unit performed exceptionally well in an extremely hostile week one road environment. They outperformed their Pitt counterparts, a unit that many expected to be one of the 20 best in the entire country.

They outperformed their Pitt counterparts also because the West Virginia defensive line played well in the game. Pitt came in openly speaking about running the ball which, as expected, played right into the strength of the West Virginia defense and not the weakness, their secondary. Although, a few of West Virginia’s five sacks can certainly be chalked up to strong coverage by the secondary unit.

West Virginia did get some help on their five sacks too from Pitt’s quarterback Kedon Slovis who struggled at times with holding on to the ball for too long, something West Virginia fans often complained about their former quarterback Jarrett Doege last season.

Putting that aside five sacks against this tough Pitt offensive line is impressive. And chalking it all up to Slovis is unfair to the West Virginia defensive line, which stifled the run throughout much of the game.

While a few images of a five-foot-nine Rodney Hammond of Pittsburgh barreling through much bigger West Virginia defenders on two touchdown runs is something to feel worried about, the unit as a whole only allowed 76 yards on 38 carries from Pitt, exactly a two yard per carry average.

Again, this unit completely outperformed their counterparts. A counterpart that can be argued as the best such unit in the entire country. West Virginia pretty significantly won the battle in the trenches.

When that doesn’t result in a win though, other obviously things need to be cleaned up. Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who had a great game overall, had an extremely bad tip that led to the pick-six. That is something to worry about considering the wide receiver unit’s problems with drops last year. That unit also struggled to keep hold of the ball through contact, granted by a hard-hitting Pitt team.

The secondary, as expected, struggled in the second half. The team lost star cornerback Charles Woods early to a leg injury and never recovered. Despite having problems releasing the ball in a timely manner, Slovis went 16-24 in the game and threw for 308 yards which meant Pitt averaged 19.3 yards per completion. Wesley McCormick, the transfer cornerback who filled in for Woods, was also ejected after a helmet-to-helmet targeting call.

The strengths of the team though outperformed the top counterparts they may face all season. And that is a positive sign going forward.

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