Over the past few seasons, Zach Frazier has been tabbed the strongest player on the WVU roster by a number of his teammates and coaches. He has two Iron Mountaineer Awards to prove it.
The Fairmont native will put that strength to the test as he matches up with one of the toughest defensive linemen in the Big 12 Conference, Baylor’s Siaki Ika.
Frazier is listed at 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds. According to the Bears’ roster, Ika is 6-4 and checks in at 358 pounds.
“He does his job as well as anybody does their job in our league,” head coach Neal Brown said of Ika. “He’s a special player and he’s a problem. He was a big factor in our game last year. I remember he rushed the passer better than he had shown. He had a good day with that last year.”
Ika was responsible for two of Baylor’s five sacks against the Mountaineers last season. That was just one of many performances that led to him being named 2021 Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year. He was also an All-Big 12 second-team selection as he finished with 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks through 13 games.
This season he anchors a defense that ranks No. 18 in the country against the rush.
His stats aren’t too flashy through the first five games. He has 11 total tackles on the year and hasn’t registered a sack of TFL. He finished with a season-high four tackles two weeks ago against Oklahoma State.
However, Brown said that’s not something to be paying attention to too closely as there is a big difference between getting statistically rewarded and actually making the play.
“You’ll see people run inside zone to him and he’ll take the double team, most times they get a little bit of movement but he moves the double team backwards and the linebacker makes the play. He made the play, he just didn’t get statistically rewarded,” Brown said. “When they play him in a zero, he’ll take the center and kind of move him back and condense the pocket, and then someone else will fall in and make the sack.”
Brown referred to the BU defensive tackle as a monster of a man, but the guy lining up across from him in Old Gold and Blue can be referred to as the same thing in his own right.
Frazier is no stranger to strength-on-strength matchups. He’s in that situation weekly during the conference slate as he’s regarded as WVU’s top offensive lineman.
Brown isn’t sure how many one-on-one matchups can be won against Ika since he often takes up two gaps — even if he has the All-American center on his side.
“He’s not just a big body, he’s a big body that can move. He really uses his hands. They’ve got him playing with really good pad level. He’s a great player,” Brown said. “Just like when you play a great receiver, you have to do some things different coverage-wise. Same thing when you play against a great interior lineman. You have to do things a little bit different”
In his third season as West Virginia’s center, Frazier knows how to fight a heavyweight bout.
He is used to taking on the toughest players up front while also giving the Mountaineers more opportunities in the run game just by doing what he does best. Ika may have the upper hand when it comes to weight, but there’s no disparity between the two when it comes to talent.
“My assumption is, and it’s probably a good assumption, that they have a lot of respect for the way Zach plays. It’s a bit of a chess match there and I think it’s as much of a challenge for Zach as it is for him,” Brown said.