Tough Test Ahead

While a still-young WVU offensive line faces perhaps its biggest test of the season this week, position coach Dave Johnson believes that it will not take any special scheme to handle USF's tandem of standout defensive ends.

"The biggest thing is just to execute what we normally do," Johnson said. "That's what we've been focusing on all week -- making sure that we have our angles right and our hands right and doing all the technique and fundamentals that you need to do to be successful."

Other South Florida opponents have opted to double-team two-time first-team All-American defensive end George Selvie. The senior has faced at least two opposing blockers on 117 of the 263 snaps he has played this season.

That has only made things easier for teammate Jason Pierre-Paul, who has come on strong this season and provides a threat from the opposite side of the line. West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said this week that both of the Bulls' defensive ends had All-American level talent.

Thus, the Mountaineer offensive line will have to carefully pick and choose when to double-team either Selvie or Pierre-Paul.

"That's a testament to (Selvie) that he gets double-teamed all the time," Johnson said. "It's like Mark McGwire getting intentionally walked. It happens because they're great players."

"Obviously, you can't do that all the time because it's hard to commit that many people. But the schemes we have in place are ones that we should be okay as long as guys execute. If guys aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing or they miscommunicate or whatever, then there could be problems. We just need to communicate."

While the unenviable task of blocking Selvie and Pierre-Paul will mostly fall to Mountaineer tackles Selvish Capers and Don Barclay, the ever-changing interior of the offensive line will also have a tough test.

Joey Madsen and Eric Jobe have spent the season flip-flopping between the center and right guard positions. Most often, Madsen has found himself at center when the opposing defense puts a nose guard over the ball.

While Johnson may like Jobe a bit better when he does not have an opponent over his nose at the snap, he said that is not the only reason for the switches.

"They both do good things," the second-year offensive line coach said. "It just depends on the game plan. It depends on personnel. It depends on how they practice that week. Hopefully I have enough experience myself that I just have a gut feeling as to who is going to give is the best chance to be successful."

"Obviously everybody has strengths and weaknesses, so I try to play to our strengths with those guys in their particular positions and hopefully downsize the weaknesses."

While so much is made of the need for an offensive line to get considerable time playing as a unit in order to build chemistry, Johnson said he doesn't feel the constant changes at those two positions have done anything to hinder the growth of a young front five.

"If you were bringing in different people, that could be a bit of a problem," he said. "We're very aware of those problems, and so during the course of the week (Madsen and Jobe) get an equal amount of reps each way. As the week goes on and you're incorporating and installing your game plan, I don't think it becomes a problem by the end of the week."

An offensive line that was perhaps the biggest question mark on the WVU roster heading into 2009 has had its ups and downs but has not been the glaring weakness that some anticipated. Still, as the final stretch of the regular season draws ever-closer, Johnson said that his charges still are in for some challenges.

"The big thing now is just the grind," he said." These guys have never been through a season where their bodies have gone through what they're going through and their minds have to maintain and sustain a high level of performance for a long time. It's new to them."

"It's new for Joey, it's new for (left guard) Josh (Jenkins). It's new for Donny. Even Eric Jobe only started five games (last season) -- it wasn't a whole season. He has go through a whole season and that grind. Capers is the only one who understands how to pace himself and how to prepare himself through the course of a long haul. These guys are still learning that."

Beyond the physical and mental strain that the linemen will have to endure in the final five games of the season, there is a continuing emphasis on making the unit better at pass protecting -- an increasingly important skill as the Mountaineer offense continues to evolve into one that aims to be equally adept in its aerial attack as it has been on the ground.

Johnson said that teaching and learning process is not easy and that he can not focus solely on pass blocking skills in practice, as the front five must be prepared to run block against various opponents as well.

"Pass blocking is so much more difficult," he said. "So many things can happen. You're trying to stop or slow down a very big man going forward while you're going backward. It's much easier to fire out at somebody and drive block them rather than do the reverse. Plus, it's a bit more natural to do that too. That's the struggle that is a little bit more difficult than run blocking."

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