Matt Moore had a major project on his hands when he took over West Virginia’s offensive line in 2019.
That campaign was a clear down year for the the program, especially on the line. The Mountaineers averaged just 73.3 yards on the ground as they struggled to even put the same offensive line on the field two weeks in a row.
In fact, Moore recalls that many of the wins WVU earned that year came as the coaching staff made calls around different struggles in that unit.
“I don’t know if y’all remember but when I got here, I was like 250, I was all shredded up and my hair was just completely dark,” Moore joked after Monday’s fall camp practice.
Heading into 2021, Moore doesn’t seem quite as stressed. The offensive line coach still has major decisions to make, but this year, they revolve more around picking the better of who he feels are two strong candidates, rather than covering up weaknesses.
It may have taken a couple of years, but Moore is very high on this year’s offensive line — he even admits that this year’s second team might even be comparable to the first unit of 2019, with the exception of 2019 All-American and Big 12 co-Offensive Lineman of the Year Colton McKivitz.
“I’m really excited about this group. I think we’ve got the highest ceiling we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Moore said. “We’re not there yet, we’re a little bit up and down, sometimes we really, really look good and sometimes we don’t look as good….But I’m really excited just about the group, the effort we’re playing with, the physicality we’re playing with, our communication’s gotten way better.”
As it stands, sophomore Zach Frazier mans the starting center spot, and will be flanked by guards James Gmiter on the left and Doug Nester on the right. Brandon Yates will protect quarterback Jarret Doege’s blind side as the left tackle, while a battle rages on between newcomer Wyatt Milum and redshirt sophomore Parker Moorer for the right tackle position. Ja’Quay Hubbard sits in the No. 2 spot at left tackle, while Jordan White can play any of the interior line positions — much like the rest of the unit.
Right now, he says he feels like he has these seven guys he can depend on, but by kickoff on Sept. 4, he’d like to get that number up to around 10 for “that elusive two-deep” he’s wanted since he came to Morgantown.
Frazier, a highly-touted product of Fairmont, West Virginia, is taking a big step at the center position after already taking a leap as a freshman. He started nine of WVU’s 10 games in 2020 at guard, then made the move to center in the offseason and took the top place on the depth chart.
The move hasn’t been too hard, though — Moore praises Frazier’s knowledge of the game and maturity, making the transition go smoothly. He does, however, still have some things to learn.
“He does such a good job and studies so hard at understanding where the plays going to start, who we’re going to ID, and who’s working the who, and the communication of that is just very comfortable,” Moore said. “I think we can continue to get better, he can continue to get better and see the secondary now, and understand safety rotation, and that’s when you start getting to those 400-level classes.”
Gmiter and Nester bring the experience, however from different areas of college football. Nester, a transfer from Virginia Tech, played in 20 games for the Hokies before moving to WVU. Gmiter has made as many appearances in two seasons, but of course, all of his came in the Old Gold and Blue.
The biggest question mark on the line, however, is at that right tackle position, which will be decided after the “dog fight” between Milum and Moorer. Unlike the guards, neither of these guys have significant on-field experience — Moorer made 10 appearances for the Mountaineers for a total of 135 offensive snaps, the bulk of which came at the Liberty Bowl. Milum, on the other hand, was one of the top recruits of the 2021 signing class, making him potentially the greenest starter on this year’s roster.
“They’re in a dog fight. They’re splitting reps, basically, they split the scrimmage, and up until the scrimmage, Wyatt had been getting all the second team reps and Parker had been getting the first team reps,” Moore said. “It’s hard to make a decision when you’ve got the first team guy going against the first team defense all the time…so we flipped it and now Wyatt got all the first team reps against the first team defense, so I’m trying to make that decision but they are in a dog fight right now.”
Luckily, these decisions are much easier when he’s picking between two guys in whom he’s confident.
“This is the first year I’ve really had a true, ‘Hey, somebody’s pushing somebody,’ instead of just having five guys and trying to figure [it] out,” Moore said.