Success Against the Odds

Conventional wisdom holds that blocking an eight-man front is a quixotic quest, but WVU's offensive line excels at a job that many consider to be impossible.

While many people believe that all a defense has to do to stop the running game is bring a safety or two close to the line of scrimmage, that's not the case. West Virginia has faced many such fronts as its running game has vaulted to the top of the national charts, yet has still managed to post an impressive 262.5 yards per game on the ground in 2005. A couple of different factors figure into that success, according to offensive tackle Garin Justice.

"First and foremost, it helps to have a quarterback that can run and fake," said the Gilbert, W. Va. native. "We've had that in Rasheed Marshall in the past and Pat White now, and that always takes at least one guy out of the equation."

By that, Justice means that the defense has to commit a defender to covering the quarterback. Even if that defender is unblocked, he often has to check the QB before pursuing a handoff to a running back. With the speed of WVU's backs, however, that hesitation is usually enough to take the defender out of the play.

The second factor is the direction or type of play, which can also leave certain defenders out of the action, and not require a blocker for them.

"[For example], if you run a play to the right, you don't have to block the guy furthest to the left," Justice explained. "That takes another one out. Then it's six on six."

Even though WVU's offensive line doesn't overpower a lot of people, six on six is still good odds for the gold and blue offensive front. The Mountaineers' superior technique, combined with an unparalleled work ethic, puts West Virginia in good position to win the majority of those one-on-one contests. Justice agrees with the first part, but is quick to deflect praise for his unit's part in the process.

"Mostly, being able to run the ball is just preparing and working hard in practice. Games are won in preparation, not always on the field, and we take great pride in that. We'd like to think that we are able to block anyone one-on-one, but we have a big challenge in front of us this Monday. [Georgia] has guys of great size and great athletic ability. We are an undersized line so hopefully we'll be able to use our quicks and use that to our advantage."

Justice would not commit to saying that the Mountaineers like to see an eight-man front, or take it as a challenge to their prowess. Instead, he, like most of the members of the front line, takes each play as a new challenge to be met.

"I'll block whatever's in front of us," said the towering tackle. "It's not something we really look for, we just block whatever's in front of us."

Despite all of the dissimulation, however, Justice finally cracked by admitting that the does feel good about the end results of the offensive line's work.

"It's definitely a pride thing as far as our rushing numbers," said Justice of WVU's 5.1 yards per carry average. "But it definitely helps to have athletic quarterbacks and runners."

Not to mention a band of gritty overachievers clearing the way in front of them.

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