Offensive line remains productive through change

WKU football Head Coach, Jeff Brohm, watches the players stretch during spring practice Tuesday, March 1, at Smith Stadium. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

WKU Head Coach Jeff Brohm is giving credit where it is hardly acknowledged.

The Hilltopper offensive line has seen more position movements than any other position on the team, yet it’s a large reason WKU (2-2) has averaged 44 points per game and owns the nation’s second-best passing offense with 461.5 yards per game heading into Saturday’s Conference USA home opener against Alabama-Birmingham (2-2).

This same offensive line has only allowed five sacks of quarterback Brandon Doughty through four games.

After Saturday’s season-high 164 rushing yards in a 36-27 win at Navy, the O-line has impressed the first-year coach all while going through constant personnel changes.

“We’re going to continue to rotate a few guys in there at certain positions to keep them fresh,” Brohm said. “Those guys play a lot of snaps. We tell them all the time, they do all the dirty work and get none of the credit, but they work extremely hard, they practice hard. 

“A lot of them have played injured, some of them are still a little bit injured and they continue to find ways to get through the week of practice and go out game day and perform at a high level.”

Starting center Max Halpin missed last week’s contest with a back injury and was replaced by starting right guard Derrick Stark. Darrell Williams stepped up at right guard, where Stark started the first three games. Senior tackle Cam Clemmons hasn’t missed a start, but has also battle back issues occasionally throughout the week.

“When it comes to the offensive line, chemistry is a big factor and the offensive line switching in and out, we just have to make sure we communicate,” Stark said. “If we do well to communicate, everything will be fine, doesn’t matter who plays.”

The injuries haven’t been exclusive to the interior run blockers, it’s also hurting WKU on the outside and in the passing game.

Tight end Mitchell Henry is expected to return Saturday after sitting out last week with a shoulder injury and junior Tyler Higbee is expected to miss several weeks after suffering what Brohm hopes is “not a complete ACL tear”.

Even though injuries called for a shift in personnel, WKU’s rushing performance on Saturday may have been just what Brohm wanted to see out of both his O-line and backfield.

WKU’s rushing attack, which averaged just 3.3 yards per game through the first three games, averaged 4.8 yards against Navy, with Leon Allen’s numbers proving to be more efficient with six yards per carry.

Allen’s productivity with 17 carries for 102 yards opened up opportunities for Anthony Wales, who ran for 60 yards on 14 attempts. Yet, WKU still ranks 94th in the nation in rushing offense.

WKU features three members of the main coaching staff who were former members of the UAB staff with head coach Jeff Brohm as offensive coordinator in 2012, while Helton served as running backs coach. Current WKU offensive line coach Neil Calloway was the Blazers’ head coach from 2007-11.

Despite the sudden shifts to the Hilltopper offensive line, Helton isn’t worried about the durability of an offensive line that has taken an average of 91 snaps per game.

“I think they’ve done a really good job,” said Helton. “I think one thing coach Callaway does great is he’s always rolling guys, always putting them in different spots. He anticipates a little injury here or a guy going down there but when the next guy comes in we don’t miss a beat.”