Entering the sixth game of the season, West Virginia's offensive line has been arguably the most impressive group on the roster. After coming under much scrutiny for its (lack of) pass blocking in the 2015 season, the Mountaineers' offensive line has allowed just four sacks on the year and aside from the Oct. 1 contest with Kansas State, the group has dominated the battle in the trenches. Ron Crook, the Mountaineers' veteran offensive line coach, spoke about the unit's impressive performance against Texas Tech and the need to continue growing throughout the season.
"Obviously I thought we had a pretty good game last weekend," Crook said. "We did exactly what we needed to do to win but we have to keep getting better. It's not going to get any easier from here to the end of the season. Everybody coming in here has a great defense, throws the ball all over the place and runs a lot of plays offensively. We're going to have to continue to improve if we want to keep winning football games."
This week the Mountaineers will face a much better pass rush as TCU's defense has already accounted for 22 sacks on the year. Crook dissected TCU's defense and spoke about what makes it such a strong unit.
"They don't get out of position and they don't give up big plays," Crook said. "You have to put together play after play after play to get in the end zone against them. Their guys play extremely hard and you have a pretty good idea of where they're going to be but they're really good at playing their techniques and they're really good at coaching their schemes."
One of the key cogs in TCU's defense is defensive end Josh Carraway, who has already registered 4.5 sacks on the season. The task of containing Carraway will fall on the shoulders of mountaineer tackles Colton McKivitz and Adam Pankey. McKivitz, who is just a redshirt freshman, drew praise from head coach Dana Holgorsen for his play through the first five contests of the season. McKivitz has also impressed Crook, but Crook knows that there is still a lot of work to be done if McKivitz is to reach his full potential.
"I thought he played well (against Texas Tech)," Crook said. "Again he's still learning. He's still improving every day and I'm excited about the direction he's going. It's going to be another tough challenge for him. These guys rush the passer really well and they're well coached in their technique and scheme. If you make a mistake then they're going to make you pay for it. He's going to have to have a great focus in practice this week as well as on game day"
McKivitz, like many freshmen, has already experienced the highs and lows that come with developing as a player and learning to adapt to playing Division 1 football. One of the highs was certainly the Missouri game in which McKivitz stepped in for Yodny Cajuste and dominated against a stout Missouri defense, but one of the lows came just one week later when McKivitz struggled with Youngstown State's defensive ends, who are very talented in their own right. McKivitz reflected on those games and detailed what he has learned to this point in the year.
"With Missouri I was kind of on that high horse," McKivitz said. "Against Youngstown State I wasn't as focused as I should have been and it definitely put it in perspective. It let me know that you have to bring it and get better every week."
McKivitz has certainly showed improvement since the first half of the Youngstown State game and credits having the right mindset as a big reason why.
"You have to go into it with the right mindset that you are going to get beat," McKivitz admitted. "You're young and inexperienced and there are older guys who are more experienced. You just have to take from the older guys and build that confidence back up."
It appears that McKivitz's confidence is where it needs to be as he is becoming one of the more consistent players on the Mountaineer offense. This week could be his biggest challenge though as the Mountaineers try to contain TCU's rush ends and give Skyler Howard the time needed to operate efficiently. If he can again hold his own against older, more experienced players it will go a long way in helping the Mountaineers attain win number six