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O-line will be pivotal as West Virginia visits TCU

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West Virginia quarterback Ford Childress looks to pass while being pressured by Maryland defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson during the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

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By Bob Hertzel
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If West Virginia loses to TCU on Saturday, it will put a dent in its postseason plans.

The teams come in to Saturday's game with identical 3-5 records, 1-4 in Big 12 play.

A team needs six victories to become bowl eligible, meaning both teams have to win three of their final four games for a shot at a postseason berth.

If West Virginia plans to knock off TCU, the Mountaineers will have to get its best game this season out of its offensive line.

When it comes to expecting good play out of the WVU offensive line, all eyes turn toward 335-pound Quinton Spain, the team's best offensive lineman.

“Quinton Spain played his best game last week,” coach Dana Holgorsen said of the loss at Kansas State.

It's important the offensive line plays well against a strong TCU defense.

TCU leads the Big 12 in sacks (3.0 spg) and is second in rushing defense (124.2 ypg).

Spain's play is critical because the offensive line has been rebuilt around him.

Holgorsen said the offensive line has shown improvement but that it isn't where it needs to be.

“The consistency that we have is not winning football,” he said. “We have been improving up front. Pat Eger was really good before he went down. Tyler Orlosky, Adam Pankey, Marquise Lucas are young and they are going to keep improving. In my opinion, (Curtis) Feigt and (Nick) Kindler need to get better.

“I think they took a step back last week, and they know that. They need to get better this week.”

A strong offensive line can cover up a lot of problems, but not all of them.

“You can have average receivers if you have a great offensive line. I feel differently about the quarterback position. I think you need good quarterback play regardless if you have a good or bad offensive line,” Holgorsen said. “The good quarterbacks can bail out a bad offensive line at times. I don't know if a good offensive line can balance out a bad quarterback.”

At season's start, Spain was at left tackle, guarding the quarterback's blind spot.

But in an effort to get more experience on an offensive line that lost guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins and center Pat Madsen, Spain was moved to guard so veteran Kindler could play.

Offensive numbers will tell you that the line has not been overwhelming in either the run game or pass protection, ranking sixth in the Big 12 in rushing offense and seventh in most sacks allowed.

The move from tackle to guard was not necessarily an easy one for WVU to make. Spain has NFL aspirations and was content at tackle.

“I've been playing tackle all the way up,'' Spain said. “It's like my first nature. But it's good for me to play guard, too.”

Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.

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