Liner Notes

Offensive tackle Mike Watson's rise as a solid player has paralleled the entire unit's performance over the 2003 season.

West Virginia's offensive line got off to a rough start in 2003, and the same was true for a player who was expected to be a big contributor to the Mountaineers' rebuilding effort in the trenches.

Offensive tackle Michael Watson, who was pencilled in at left tackle, struggled early and at one point was close to, if not actually off, the team. However, the big Californian rebounded to work his way back into the starting lineup.

Watson thinks that the line simple needed experience, and that once the players up front got some work together, the line's productivity began to increase.

"We were young and inexperienced, and we were still trying to think about what to do and not tkaing their steps as fast as they could," Watson said after WVU's 34-23 win over Syracuse. "Toward the third or fourth game, we started to jell. We were able to just play and not have to think as much. As time has gone on, everyone has gotten into the groove and things started to come together."

Watson's rise back to the starting lineup paralleled the line's improvement, and many people have tried to credit the junior college transfer for much of that success. However, Watson deflects any such connection, other than a coincidental one.

"I thought about the parallels between my start and the line. I started out slow, just like the team did. But when people ask me if I think I made the offensive line better, I always say no. It's the way the team goes that shows how I'm doing individually."

That sort of "team first" attitude has been a big part of Watson's success, and although he is always quick to talk about the offensive line as a unit first, there's no doubt that he has been a big contributor to WVU's six-game winning streak.

Against the Orangemen, Watson and his teammates faced a stacked Syracuse defense that refused to back off, even when WVU hit some pass plays deep against single coverage. Watson liked those plays, of course, but admitted to some frustration when the Mountaineers couldn't run the ball as they were accustomed.

"They were putting a lot of people in the box. The were strong on the edge, and the linebackers were flowing to the ball. They were bringing a lot of people in there.

"We like to stick with what we do - stretch them out and keep them honest, and then hope that the tailback opens up. If that doesn't work, then we'll go back to play action and go downfield.

True to an offensive lineman's heart, however, Watson admits that he likes the running game. And even when opponents put seven or eight men close to the line, it's difficult, from a lineman's perspective, to see why a running play fails.

"It can be frustrating," Watson observed as he talked about blocking against numerous defenders. When you look at from where we are, you just see it as a one on one. If a play doesn't work, you think 'I just got beat' because you never know how many guys they actually had in the box at that moment. So, it's a little frustrating. But the boost you get when we hit a big play is enormous. You're running and running, and then suddenly you get a play for 60 yards, and that's awesome."

Awesome, indeed. And as West Virginia's passing game continues to devleop and mature, that adjective might be applied to the Mountaineers' entire offensive attack in the not-too-distant future.

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