To confront Sooners, Horned Frogs, it will take a cohesive offensive line
Big 12 football can be wild and woolly. Scores reach into the stratosphere. Yardage mounts up like the national debt. Defenses are scattered like weed seed in a gale-like wind.
How does a team keep pace with its kinfolk that are scorching the earth with points, touchdown passes and All-America players?
About the only way to ensure your team isn’t rolled over like new asphalt under a yellow Caterpillar behemoth-machine is to have a cohesive and productive offensive line.
Even with 2015 starters Marquis Lucas and Kyle Bosch missing, West Virginia has the makings of an offensive line that can keep it in contention to be a winning team in the offensive-minded Big 12.
Tyler Orlosky was last year’s center . . . and he and fellow senior Adam Pankey give the Mountaineers a foundation to build a useful line around.
Yodny Cajuste started six games a season ago. Marcell Lazard also started six times in 2015.
Tony Matteo had one start last seasaon and Grant Lingafelter is a tree top-tall sixth lineman . . . and as a group they appear to be cohesive enough and talented enough to help make the Mountaineers competitive in any game that becomes nothing more than an exploding scoreboard.
Skyler Howard may be a capable thrower . . . if he is still standing. There could be a group of receivers lying in wait that catch 350 yards worth of passes in every game. Howard is a quarterback who has to have time to throw . . . and can’t be scrambling around looking to throw on the run to a receiver whose route is known only to guesswork.
But to win games when a virtual whirlwind of points is flying about in all directions, a Big 12 team needs a solid running game.
Howard runs fairly often. Some of his ventures are planned and some are ad lib moments with linebackers and defensive ends in hot pursuit.
Rushel Shell can be a 100-yard-a-week back. He might score 20 or more touchdowns this season. Can he be healthy enough to survive 20 carries a week in a month-long stretch of conference games?
He could be if his offensive line helps keep him from being dumped in his backfields before he even gets started.
Any team relying on its rushing attack in a conference filled with footballs flying overhead might look to be stodgy and too conservative. But a reliable running game hogs the football in the fourth quarter and can control the late-game clock.
Besides, keeping the football away from the other teams for minutes at a time keeps them from scoring.
Shell and Howard are both valuable weapons, but neither will do much without a useful offensive line.
Most people won’t known their names . . . but Orlosky, Pankey, Cajuste, Lazard, Matteo and Lingafelter will decide the outcome of more than one conference game . . . either in a positive or negative way.