MORGANTOWN - Since West Virginia opened its season with that 69-34 dismemberment of Marshall, the praise heaped upon a member of that ridiculously efficient offense has yet to wane. It's hard to have a conversation with either his head coach or his position coach in which he's not lauded, even if he's only peripheral to the discussion.OK, so yes, that's true of quarterback Geno Smith. And maybe to receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and running back Shawne Alston, too.But today we're talking about someone far less visible.Left guard Jeff Braun."The guy that stood out was Braun,'' offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. "He's moving around better, technically he's better, he's using his hands and doing a bunch of things. He was good in the Orange Bowl, but this was his best performance, by far.''And from Holgorsen: "There were a lot of guys we could have named the offensive player of the game. We considered Jeff Braun.''So, having heard and considered most of the accolades, what thinks Jeff Braun of it all?Eh.
"During the game I didn't really know how I was playing. I was just trying to take one play at a time,'' Braun said. "And when I got back and watched some film, I did some things I like and there are a few plays I'd like to have back."Overall, I think I played fairly well. But it's the first game. I want to build off of that. Right now I have two pretty good games under my belt. I just want to keep building on it.''Of course, from a layman's perspective, who really knows how well Braun played, or any of the individual offensive linemen for that matter? His parents probably watched him pretty closely. Bedenbaugh and Vince Cashdollar, his graduate assistant in the press box, did, too, although even they needed film study to pin it down.And it's not like you can look at the stat sheet at the end and see Braun's name anywhere except on the list of starters.You can, however, look at that stat sheet and see a total absence of sacks and 331 rushing yards and draw some conclusions about the play of the offensive line. And much of that has to do with the play of Braun, who admits he had an unusually small number of mistakes.
"Hopefully it's not unusual,'' he said. "But it's not like I let guys through. The mistakes I had were technical that I can fix - taking the wrong steps, putting my hands in the wrong place, maybe not getting on a block completely, stuff like that. That's a mistake to me."The glaring mistakes are what everyone else sees - a sack, a hurry-up throw or a pressure, a penalty. Those are what people watching on TV can see. But there's stuff we see in the film room that I would know.''
There were so few of those, however, that even Bedenbaugh has trouble picking on Braun for them. That would be kind of like quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital watching Smith complete 32 of 36 passes and dwelling on the four incompletions.What is even more amazing, perhaps, is that Braun is playing as well as he is at a new position. Last year he filled in for Josh Jenkins all season at left guard. The year before he started every game at right tackle. In high school in Westminster, Md., he was an all-state center.Granted, it might seem trivial, all those position changes, given that the basic assignment is still the same - to block and protect. But there's more to it than that."It's hard to move around,'' Bedenbaugh said. "It's hard to change your stance, and you're getting different rushes from different sides and different positions.''Perhaps now, in his fifth season, the 6-foot-5, 321-pounder has found a home."I just like the stance. It feels more natural having my right hand down and my right foot back,'' Braun said. "But it doesn't really matter. I played a little left guard [in practice Tuesday] just to give Josh a breather. I know the plays from any position, but it's just being in that stance.''
Whatever the reason, Braun has seemed to assume the role of the best player on a vastly improved offensive line. He's certainly the most versatile, having played every position. Were something to happen to center Joe Madsen, don't look to the depth chart to see who his backup is. Regardless of what it says, it's Braun, who would move over and then be subbed for himself."We're light years ahead of where we were last year,'' Holgorsen said of the offensive line play in general.And Braun's play is a big reason.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.