By Jack Rieger
The Nevada offensive line is one of the youngest, most inexperienced groups in the country. While the quarterback competition garnered the bulk of the media’s attention during fall practices, it’s the offensive line that is the biggest question mark heading into 2015.
The five members of the starting line, nicknamed “The Union,” combine for just 26 career starts. Center Nathan Goltry and right tackle Jake Henry have never started a collegiate game, while left guard Adam Khouri has started in just two. Sophomore left tackle Austin Corbett is the silent leader of the linemen with 12 career starts, and probably the most talented individual member. Corbett is tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blind side, as well as leading the youngest group on the team.
While offensive linemen don’t score touchdowns or make front-page news, they are a pivotal part of every game.
“Linemen are literally the unsung heroes of the game,” said former offensive line coach Gomer Jones. “Their situation is analogous to the infantry in warfare. They do the hard, bitter fighting for victory. As the generals reap the headlines in war, the backs reap the headlines in football. Yet in their hearts, the generals and backs know that victory and the accolades came to them through the work of the foot soldiers and linemen.”
Thanks to a punishing offensive line, Nevada averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year, fourth best in the Mountain West Conference. Nevada’s game plan is to run the ball early and often, and hopefully by the fourth quarter the opposing defense is exhausted from The Union’s attack. Offensive line coach Ron Hudson, a former offensive lineman, understands the violent nature of being one of the men in the trenches.
“Being an offensive linemen is sort of a unique deal,” Hudson said. “You’re basically going through 50 car crashes every Saturday. You’re banging into a lot of bodies. They understand that. They also understand that this game is a long haul. It’s a 60-minute football game, and the toll that they take on defenses by playing physical for four quarters can have an impact on our game.”
Nevada’s offensive line will not just have an impact on the game, they will dictate the tempo of the offense based on their ability to control the opposing defensive line. They will also be faced with protecting a quarterback making only his second career start under center. That is a lot of responsibility for a group who only has one member old enough to buy a drink at the Corkscroo.
The innate violence that comes with being an offensive lineman had its effect on Nevada’s health during the offseason. During spring practices alone, Nevada lost three linemen to career-ending injuries. As if that wasn’t enough, junior-college transfer Derrick Stom quit the team four days into fall camp. Stom was slotted as the first man off the bench, which is a valuable position to inherit considering how frequently linemen are subject to injury. The inexperienced offensive line now lacks depth thanks to a series of unfortunate injuries and Stom’s departure.
While their lack of experience will often be seen as a weakness, Nevada’s youth at offensive line has a few advantages. None of the linemen are seniors, so this group will have at least two years to build the synergy that is essential for any line. Secondly, few people expect this group to perform as well as last year’s offensive line, which could be a source of motivation. Coach Hudson claims his group is motivated despite the lack of attention they’ve received throughout the offseason.
“Regardless of how little attention we get from the outside world, we have something to prove,” Hudson said. “Our goal is, when we’re done playing, whoever we’re playing, we want to earn their respect. We want them to walk off the field and say that was a heck of an offensive line that just got after us.”
The burden of protecting an inexperienced quarterback as well as controlling the all-important line of scrimmage is probably an unfair amount of responsibility for such a young group of men, but that is The Union’s reality.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JackRieger