MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There remains an everlasting image from last season, though maybe not as memorable to observers as every one of West Virginia's short-yardage failures were to Coach Dana Holgorsen.
The Mountaineers were hoping to score against Oklahoma State and encountered a fourth-and-goal. They tried to run into the end zone but, by the looks of it, ran into a brick wall. A television camera then caught Holgorsen on the sideline saying his offensive linemen were soft as molten fudge cakes. Or something like that. There was no audio.
The point remains that in the ninth game of the regular season, it was pretty clear why the Mountaineers were on their way to a fourth loss in a string of five straight and how a 5-0 start had turned into a 5-5 fiasco.
WVU would get pushed when it was supposed to push. If not when running on fourth-and-goal, then when defending fourth-and-goal against Oklahoma or when guarding 94 yards and a lead against TCU or when trying to come off its own goal line against Syracuse. Twice.
Fixing this has been an offseason focus demonstrated in a variety of ways. Players were made familiar with the traditions of the state and program so that they understand an opponent ought not bully someone representing a people and a place with such pride and history. Recruits were brought in from junior colleges because they're more mature and experienced, but also because they haven't been pampered and don't take such luxuries for granted. New coaches were hired to not only fill vacancies, but to change the voices and messages in the meeting rooms and in practice and to preach a different philosophy.
And that is where Ron Crook comes into this conversation. The newly hired offensive line coach spent the previous two seasons at Stanford, which is to WVU's offense what Sleepytime Tea is to Red Bull. This wasn't an accidental hiring or Holrogsen hurriedly picking someone to quickly end another coaching search.
Crook is not supposed to produce all-conference linemen or enable 1,000-yard rushers, though no one will complain if he does. Crook is supposed to find the way through that wall that appeared before the Oklahoma State goal line. He's supposed to run out the final four minutes of a game and protect a defense that doesn't need to protect a two-point lead one last time. He's supposed to dare defensive ends and linebackers to pick themselves up after a pancake block and go after the quarterback again.
The plays Holgorsen calls and the Mountaineers run will change very little. How they're executed is going to be more than a little new.
"I think it's just the way we're playing the double teams now," presumed starting right tackle Curtis Feigt said. "It's something new and it puts more aggression in the offense. Before Crook was here, we were strictly inside zone, outside zone and more or less in one-on-one situations. Now we're doing double-team stuff - two of us against one of them, three of us against two of them. It puts us in a better, more aggressive situation."