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by Joedy McCreary
MORGANTOWN -- Pancake blocks aside, statistics aren't kept on the offensive line.
That's why West Virginia's linemen take their greatest pride in the success of others.
"We always gauge our performance by how well our backs do, how well our quarterbacks throw and how many yards our receivers get," center Eric de Groh said.
The line was held accountable for a disappointing 5-6 season in 1995 and WVU's late-season swoon in 1996, when the team finished 1-4 after starting out 7-0.
"A couple of years ago, it seemed like we got blamed for everything," de Groh said. "Now, it seems like we're becoming the strength of the team."
"Ever since the 1995 season, which was dismal, this is what we worked for," said guard Randy Dunnigan.
"This is what we wanted, that kind of spotlight on us."
The linemen average 6-foot-5, 302 pounds.
De Groh, 6-5, 300 pounds, anchors the offense. He's flanked by guards Dunnigan (6-3, 315) and Bryan Pukenas (6-4, 295).
Brock Holland (6-5, 300) and Solomon Page (6-6, 300) are the tackles. Page is the only underclassman.
All but Holland, who replaces Sam Austin, started every game last year.
"And Brock, even though he's not a returning starter, he played a lot last year," Dunnigan said. "We've all gelled. ... It's a whole lot better than having a new offensive line."
The biggest concern is depth. But that's where the versatility of reserves like Steve Ford (6-3, 300) and Tanner Russell (6-7, 305) will be important.
Ford could move to tackle, Simrell said.
One of the biggest pluses in experience is pacing, de Groh said.
"We've been in enough battles to know it's controlled fury out there," de Groh said. "You have to go out and play with intensity, but you also have to play within yourself. If you get too wild or fired up, that's when you make mistakes Ñ your quarterback gets sacked or (tailback) Amos (Zereoue) gets tackled for a loss."
Which, as the linemen say, would ruin the most important stat.
The final score.