Mountaineer Madness: Offensive line key for WVU on Saturday

Sills, McKivitz among those expected to start

MORGANTOWN — The life of an offensive lineman isn’t easy no matter what school you call home.

But, when you are playing for the No 6 ranked team in the country and charged with protecting a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, that life is magnified.

“You just have to take your breaks on the sideline as you get them, drink some water, that type of thing,” redshirt offensive lineman Josh Sills explained. “You have to control your breathing.”

Sills and the rest of West Virginia’s offensive front have their work cut out for them when they take to the field against Iowa State at 7 p.m. Saturday inside Jack Trice Stadium.

“I can’t say there’s ever been a play that I specifically wanted to come out just because you play through that, you push through it, that kind of thing,” continued the Meadowbrook High School grad. “I look at it as you train eight months out of the year, so why would you go through all of the training and stress on your body to not play in the games on Saturday?

“I wouldn’t say that I save myself, because when you save yourself, it shows on film. We just have to go out there with the mindset — that’s a big thing with Coach (assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning) Mike (Joseph) and really everyone around here is your mindset. You just have to have that mindset that, no matter what, my first play is going to be as good as my last, and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are.

“So, I wouldn’t say I save myself because if you save yourself earlier in a game, it shows, and you get beat and that type of thing. So, you just have to play your best every play.”

The task for Sills and his offensive line mates Yodney Cajuste, Matt Jones, Isaiah Hardy and Jacobsburg (Ohio) native Colton McKivitz is to give redshirt senior quarterback Will Grier time to get the football to a bevy of talented receivers or open holes for a running game led by true freshman Leddie Brown against an ISU defensive front which ranks No. 3 in the Big 12 in quarterback sacks (13) and tackles for loss (44).

“I think it (tackles for loss) changes how you call the game, too, and I think that’s what happened last week with the Kansas game,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “We kept getting hit for negative plays that tweaked my play calling at times, where you’re going for more, high-efficient pass plays at times when you’re behind the chains because your running game wasn’t popping the way that you wanted it to in the first half.

“These guys (ISU) are very multiple with what they do — a little bit different than what (defensive coordinator) (Tony) Gibby (Gibson) does. They cause confusion, and what they do is everything looks the same before every single snap. They are either playing man or dropping eight, they’ll zero pressure you, they’ll do all sorts of things.

“That’s why it’s a big week of being disciplined and making sure we’re going through the progressions and making sure that we’re ID’ed to the right guys because, potentially, there’s problems if we lose that lack of focus each play.”

Fortunately, the offensive line will be back to full strength as right guard Joe Brown returns from injury.

“It just adds more depth, and you can start practicing these guys more in certain positions,” continued Spavital. “When you get into Joe being out, now you have to take (redshirt sophomore) Jacob Buccigrossi and have him play some guard and get center reps where you are stealing reps at center for him.

“Now, you’re starting to gain more depth, and we can work more bodies and let them get good at their craft for that week. We’ve always been opposed to having these guys work multiple positions throughout the course of a week, but that’s what we were forced to do the past couple of weeks.”

And, Grier and company will need all the protection Sills and the rest of the offensive line can provide it West Virginia is to remain unbeaten on the season and in the hunt for the school’s first-ever Big 12 title.

Contact Jim Butta at mountaineersman@outlook.com and on twitter @buttaman2001.

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