New Blocking Rules May Affect Mountaineers Run Game

MORGANTOWN — It takes a lot to get redshirt junior offensive lineman Colton McKivitz upset these days.

Officials for the Big 12 Conference took care of that over the summer when they elected to attempt to ‘clean up’ the game by placing new limits on what is and is not considered a clean block.

“I know they came and talked to us before our scrimmage on Saturday,” McKivitz said. “I was a little upset about the new rule. I’m sure a whole lot of linemen are about the whole downfield cutting thing. It’s definitely a challenge when you’re trying to chase down a cornerback who can run a 4.4 or a 4.5, unlike big linemen like us.

“It’s a change in our gameplay downfield. I think that’s where the rule will make its most impact. That’s where that’ll be felt. If you’re doing you’re thing and getting your guy and blocking them, then there shouldn’t be any reason to get a chop block. I had one against Kansas last year because I beat the guy to the spot, but I thought I would just cut him.

“It’s a new rule, but I think it’s just something to worry about. But it’ll keep up with player safety, and that’s a big emphasis for what that rule is made for – keep guys healthy instead of blocking low on guys.”

McKivitz, the No. 18 national offensive tackle according to Phil Steele, has seen just about everything since breaking into the Mountaineers lineup on their second drive of the game in the 2016 season opener against Missouri. Since then, the former Union Local standout has played in 26 straight games, staring 23 of them, mostly at right tackle.

“The chop block, I think, is a big one,” coach Dana Holgorsen agreed. “In my eight years here, I think six of the years we’ve talked about blocking below the waist in our head coach meetings, and every year I leave more confused on what is legal and what is not legal. I do know that they’re trying to get it out of our game. We showed them a lot of examples, and the tricky part is that we don’t practice it. We don’t practice cut blocking against our own people.

“It’s hard to practice it, but we have to educate them. Once again, it’s up to each one of the position coaches to communicate to the players that this is an acceptable cut block, this is not an acceptable cut block. It can go on defense, too; defense can chop down offensive guys, and we do at times. They have to understand what is acceptable and what is not because they’re going to look very, very closely on cut blocks, and you’re going to see more flags on chop blocks this year.”

And with a backfield that includes returning running backs Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway as well as sophomore speedster Alec Sinkfield and incoming freshman Leddie Brown, WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is looking to use his running game to open up the field for Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate Will Grier and his talented corps of receivers.

“I think everybody in the country understands just how good Will and our receivers can be,” Spavital said. “But, we have to show defenses that we can, and will, run the football every chance we get.”

That first chance will come at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., when the Mountaineers take on Tennessee in the Belk Classic.