MORGANTOWN - Under the category of What a Difference a Week Makes, we bring you West Virginia's offensive line.Nearly as equally as it was praised for its play in the opening game against Marshall, WVU's 1,562 pounds of up-front muscle was roundly criticized for lapses in Game 2 against James Madison.So which is it? Are these guys something akin to the Seven Blocks of Granite - a Fordham reference from the 1930s for the youngsters - or as porous as the Seven Seas?Well, in truth probably something in between."No, we didn't do a lot of good things,'' left guard Josh Jenkins admitted. "We got some things [from James Madison] that we weren't ready for. They blitzed a lot more than we thought they'd blitz and sometimes that's hard to pick up on the run."But we just try not to let it bother us. We're not going to be able to please him all the time and we know that. It's not going to be perfect every week, but we just have to keep getting better.''The "he'' in that sentence, of course, is offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, from whom much of the criticism of his own offensive line flowed. That's the same Bedenbaugh who tempered his praise of the O-linemen after the Marshall game only in the sense that he left them room to improve.And, in truth, Bedenbaugh didn't exactly lambast his linemen in the wake of the James Madison game. He merely pointed out some obvious deficiencies. It's only in comparison to that first-game praise that it seems harsh.
"I don't think they took plays off or gave bad effort or anything like that,'' Bedenbaugh said. "I think they got complacent and felt, 'Well, this is going to be easy.' And James Madison wasn't going to let it be easy.''Indeed, James Madison, which is not to be confused with many - or even any - of the teams West Virginia will face from here on out, gave West Virginia's offensive line fits at times. The Dukes blitzed far more than expected, managed to hit quarterback Geno Smith a couple of times (although not for a sack) and for the most part bottled up the running game, including a rather embarrassing safety.And while it is easy to rationalize the play of the offensive line through statistics, that's not what Bedenbaugh saw."We don't care how many yards we had, how many points,'' Bedenbaugh said. "If you look at the stat sheet from an offensive line standpoint, that's crazy. We gave up no sacks, we rushed for about five or six yards a carry [actually it was 4.7] and you think, 'That's pretty good.' No, it wasn't. It wasn't good enough. That stuff doesn't matter. You've got to compete with yourself and play the best that you can every snap.''Again, that's a far cry from the praise Bedenbaugh and just about everyone else heaped upon the crew of Jenkins, Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun, Quinton Spain and Pat Eger in the two weeks between the Marshall and JMU games. After several years of perceived mediocrity from the offensive line, it appeared this season would be different.
And perhaps it still will be. After all, a coach would never use the media just to light a fire under his players, right? Bedenbaugh would never look around and see how everyone outside the program was jumping on the bandwagon and say to himself, "Hey, these guys need to be brought back down to earth just a bit.''Or would he?
"The expectations on the outside may be high and these kids may be getting talked to and told how good they are,'' Bedenbaugh said. "But honestly - and I know they're kids - that shouldn't matter. If they tell you how bad you are it shouldn't matter, either."The only thing they have to worry about is coming in here every day and preparing and practicing the right way, which they've done. And now it's got to carry over to the field and finishing. Don't get complacent.''Well, if complacency was an issue against James Madison, that's not likely to be the case this week when the Mountaineers play Maryland. The Terps don't come into this game with a defense ranked 110th in the country in points allowed (Marshall) or one better suited to defending the likes of FCS opponents (JMU).Instead, Maryland brings the nation's No. 8 unit in total defense and a front seven that includes All-America tackle Joe Vellano and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, the ACC's active leader in career tackles.That should provide more incentive to play hard than facing an FCS team in the second half of a game in which the score was already out of hand, right?"Yeah, but it shouldn't be [that way],'' Bedenbaugh said. "You only get so many opportunities to play in a game. It doesn't matter what the score is, it doesn't matter what the time on the clock is. You get that opportunity to get better.
"And you're not just playing for that game. Obviously that's the most important thing, but you should constantly be trying to improve for the next week and the next week.''No one is saying the offensive line played all that poorly against JMU, but it was a far cry from the excellence exhibited against Marshall. Jenkins pointed to little things that weren't done right, all of which can be easily fixed. Bedenbaugh talked of how his linemen knew they didn't play well, saying, "They were disappointed. They were embarrassed.''The bottom line, though, is that average isn't going to be accepted. And even if it is close to perfect, Bedenbaugh isn't going to settle for that, either."That's a hard guy to please, which is fine,'' Jenkins said. "He expects nothing but greatness. So if we're not great, it's not going to be good enough.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1