In last week's contest against TCU, West Virginia's offense did something that is almost unprecedented among the teams being coached by Hal Mumme's air raid disciples; it broke out the I formation and ran a variety of power running plays to gash the Horned Frogs defense which in turn helped the Mountaineers sustain long drives in the second half. WVU running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider, who played quarterback for three seasons under former Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen, is all too familiar with the I formation and discussed the evolution of Holgorsen's offense and the addition of running plays from the I.
"I feel like when I was up under center getting ready to run play action with coach Nehlen sometimes," Seider recalled with a smile on his face. "We used to run the sprint draw and hand it back to Amos (Zeroue) but it's an old saying - you never get away from the basics. Football was started with five linemen, a tight end, a fullback and a running back and at some point you get back to playing that type of football."
The Mountaineers have ran the ball more and more every year since Holgorsen took over the head coaching duties in 2011 and a big part of that transition has included integrating new formations and personnel. Of course, a big part of running the ball at any level includes having a quality fullback and Seider feels like running more plays and sets with a fullback in the game has given the Mountaineers a much-needed element of toughness in its offense.
"It makes us tougher," Seider said. "It brings some guts to that room and our guys feed off each other. The tailbacks will be the first to tell you they feed off watching Eli (Wellman) go and blow up a linebacker and open up a seam for them. It just creates a different type of mentality."
That added element of toughness has paid dividends in the running game and West Virginia is averaging almost five yards per rushing attempt and over 200 yards on the ground per game, but Seider credited the confidence and leadership of his backs as much as anything when discussing the improvement that the Mountaineers have seen on the ground game over the past few seasons.
"It's confidence and it's leadership," Seider said. "As a coach you can always push and motivate guys in certain situations but it means more from your guys who are going on the field and playing."
Another coach on the Mountaineers' staff who knows a thing or two about the power running game is offensive line coach Ron Crook, who coached at Stanford (a school synonymous with running the out of the I) prior to taking the offensive line job at West Virginia. The Mountaineers' line is arguably the most improved unit on the roster to this point in the season, particularly in pass blocking. Although the pass protection has improved by leaps and bounds, the Mountaineers allowed a season high five sacks last week against TCU (the Mountaineers had given up a total of four on the season prior to Saturday's game), but Crook made note that the total number was skewed because intentional grounding penalties count as sacks in the stat column and said he feels his unit still played well in last Saturday's contest.
"I thought we played well," Crook said. "There were some things we could have done better but I think we faced a pretty talented group who we said all week long was very well-coached and very good at their scheme. I felt like we played very well and good enough to get a victory but there's some stuff I would like to see us do better. We need to finish blocks better at times and use better footwork to get better targets. But I thought we played physical and tough and played the game we needed to play.
"A couple of times (that Skyler Howard was sacked) Skyler tried to escape the pocket and I think the way the stats work, if you throw away a grounding penalty then it counts as a sack. I didn't realize that but I came to understand that after the game. (The offensive line) did a good job but the thing about playing a group like (TCU) is that they're pretty relentless with their rush so you have to get ready to get rid of the ball."
This week the Mountaineers will take on an Oklahoma State team that is averaging 2.5 sacks per game but has struggled somewhat on the defensive side of the football, giving up almost 450 yards per game and allowing slightly over 27 points per game. Still, the Cowboys will pose challenges for the Mountaineers line and if West Virginia wants to leave Stillwater with a W then the line must continue to do more of the same.null