Against Marshall in 2011, the Mountaineers rushed for 42 yards. Against Marshall this past Saturday, the Mountaineers rushed for 331 yards. What a difference a year can make.
It was only a few weeks ago that coach Holgorsen had mentioned the possibility of playing freshmen on the offensive line. At that time, the prospect of playing freshmen did not sit well with Holgorsen.
“Hopefully we don’t have to play those guys. You want to redshirt ‘O’ linemen. Physically they’re up to speed. Mentally it’s going to take some time. We’ll keep repping them. And we won’t talk about a redshirt situation here for the next few weeks.”
Holgorsen’s concerns over playing freshmen offensive linemen proved to be moot, as WVU would not start any this past Saturday. The offensive line must have gelled in the 18 days between the quote indicating Holgorsen’s concerns over the line and the beating that same offensive line issued in Saturday’s game. The Mountaineers started Spain, Jenkins, Madsen, Braun, and Eger, all upper classmen.
Three of the starting linemen (Madsen, Braun, and Eger) were all starters in the 2011 Marshall game. The 2011 line could not move the ball effectively on the ground against the Herd defense. Of course, that 2011 Marshall defense featured current NFLer Vinny Curry; however, the defense only ranked 58th against the run. The 2012 defense only returned 6 starters and looks to be a bit worse than the 2011 squad, but not by much.
The 2012 Mountaineer line was improved with the return of a healthy Josh Jenkins at guard and the emergence of tackle Quinton Spain. A big infusion of talent and a long series of spring and fall practices paid off. Whatever the coaching staff did with the offensive line between mid-August up until the season opener must have sparked the chemistry along the line.
The line was able to clear defenders both along the line and at the second level to spring Alston, Buie, Austin, and even Smith for big runs. The ability to run the ball well gave the Mountaineers offense balance. That balance kept the Herd defense guessing and led to 9 offensive touchdowns.
Marshall’s defense is not exactly on par with the Big XII, but if the Mountaineers are able to run the ball half as well as they did on Saturday, they will be difficult for any defense to stop.