Offensive line off to a good start
MORGANTOWN - As a general rule, offensive line play is a lot like officiating. If you don't notice the guys doing the job, well, it's probably because they were doing it pretty well.
Really now, who notices a game official unless he blows a call? And who notices an offensive lineman unless he misses a block?
Well, West Virginia's offense rolled up 331 yards rushing last Saturday against Marshall and most of the acclaim went to bruising tailback Shawne Alston, who was named the team's offensive champion.
Geno Smith set up to throw the ball about 40 times (he threw it 36 and ran a handful of times when no one was open) and was never sacked. That earned him Big 12 and national (Walter Camp) player of the week honors.
The Mountaineers scored 69 points, amassed 655 yards of total offense and scored nine offensive touchdowns, a performance that moved them into the Top 10 of both major polls.
And the offensive line? Well, save for a few kudos for obviously not messing up, there wasn't much notice given. And that's just fine with line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, because one game does not a season make.
"I told them that no matter how good or how bad they played, it was a starting point,'' Bedenbaugh said. "We got to play against somebody else and if we improve from this point then we have a chance to be pretty good. But it's just a start and they're not satisfied, which is the thing I like most."
Boy, though, it was a pretty good start.
What amounts to pretty much the same offensive line that struggled at times a year ago - center Joe Madsen, guard Jeff Braun and tackles Pat Eger and Quinton Spain all were starters or key players last season and guard Josh Jenkins is back from a year off for knee surgery - wasn't flawless against Marshall, but it's hard to tell without dissecting the game tape.
In addition to the rushing yardage - in the last three years, WVU has run for more yards only once, the 360 against Bowling Green last season - the complete absence of sacks and the virtual absence of even quarterback hurries, the line also committed just one minor infraction (a procedure call against Eger), no holding calls and even allowed Smith to run 28 yards untouched for a score on a busted play.
"Geno got hit one time and the guys were pissed about it, which they should be," Bedenbaugh said. "There's an expectation and a pride that goes along with protecting the quarterback."
So was the performance of the offensive line a surprise? After all, Bedenbaugh admitted that last season he had trouble sleeping nights worrying about how his guys were progressing and if they even had the potential to excel.
"You never really know," Bedenbaugh said. "Last year I had a lot of sleepless nights. But this summer, I was good. What they did in practice, you obviously hope that translates to the field but you never know until you get out there."
Bedenbaugh also takes a lion's share of the blame for some of the weaknesses in the line play last season, his first at WVU.
"A lot of it last year wasn't on them, it was on me. We didn't have a great plan. We didn't honestly know exactly what to expect," Bedenbaugh said, referring not only to his linemen but opponents, as well. "This year we had a pretty good plan and we had adjustments based on what [Marshall was] going to do. We didn't have to use a lot of our adjustments because they basically stayed in the same stuff the whole time.
"But I think our plan was better, the coaching was better and obviously they played better."
Again, though, it was just one game. Bedenbaugh talked about getting better each week, of course, and maintaining some of the characteristics shown in the opener.
"We need to continue to play as physical as we did, as tough as we did and as nasty as we did," Bedenbaugh said. "That stuff shows up on film."
And nothing shows up at night now to keep Bedenbaugh awake. In fact, he says coaching this group is the most fun he's had in a long time.
"And it's not just their execution, it's how they approach the game. It's a mentality you have to have to be a great player," Bedenbaugh said. "In the past they were satisfied, possibly, with being average, with being OK. Now there's an expectation to be better."
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1