MARTINSBURG — WVU’s offensive line has probably been the most criticized unit for the first two weeks of the season. After week two, Coach Neal Brown said changes were imminent not only on the line, but the all positions.
The change in the lineup may have been greater than the staff expected with starting guards Josh Sills and Michael Brown out for Saturday’s game against N.C. State.
“As a coach, you’ve got to keep trying things until you find the right mix,” Coach Brown said. “I think it’s one of those really fun things about coaching, you keep trying. It’s hard to play offensive line Michael (Brown) was sick all week and didn’t practice, so he couldn’t play. Josh (Sills) was hurt, so he couldn’t play.”
Despite those losses, the offensive line — lead by redshirt senior Colton McKivitz — turned things around against the Wolfpack and gave the offense more pass protection and holes in the ground game.
In the first two games, the Mountaineers only had a total of 64 rushing yards, but by halftime Saturday had 65. WVU finished the game with 445 yards of total offense, with 175 yards on the ground.
“About time, right,” McKivitz said with a laugh after Saturday’s game.
Coach Brown said multiple guys got their first starts against N.C. State.
“Briason Mays made his first start, James Gmiter made his first start, John Hughes made his first start,” he explained. “Chase Behrndt played a lot of football … my hunch is he played with a different type of edge then he has played with. Colby Wickline had his best week in practice, and I think that showed.”
McKivitz agreed with Brown that his teammates played hard and were focused.
“I think now is kind of that trust and I am going to expect those guys to play hard,” he said. “The kind of cool thing was this week is they wanted to help. They were asking me what else they could do to get better. We had extra meetings — just that extra film and buy in this week really played off. Now that people saw what we could do, we are going to have to prepare to that level every week.”
Brown said the success Saturday by the line has some to do with the leadership of McKivitz.
“Colton to me, he is a dude. He prepares like a dude, he plays like a dude, he leads like a dude,” Coach Brown said.
McKivitz said to him a dude is a guy that can be trusted upon to do his job. However, he said he is never going to be satisfied with his play.
As a leader of the offensive line, McKivitz said, “I am just trying to get guys to realize to respect this game. I think the guys did that today and played their hearts out.”
He also noted the hardwork of defensive switchovers Gmiter and Behrndt.
“This week (they) approached it well. For a defensive guy to switch over it is tough you are used to trying to shed blocks and now you are trying to block the guy,” McKivitz said. “I was really happy we didn’t have any holding calls or false starts. I think guys played tough today.”