MORGANTOWN - The team's quarterback had just thrown for what, 1,000 yards and 50 touchdowns?He'd further distanced himself - at least for this day on a wholly fluid landscape - from anything resembling competition for the trophy that goes to the best player in college football.You couldn't switch on any of the ESPN family of networks - probably even ESPN Deportes, although we will have to trust the Spanish speaking among you for confirmation on that - without hearing some football-savvy coach or talking head singing Geno Smith's praises.And yet there they sat Sunday afternoon in West Virginia's team meeting room at the Puskar Center, going through the normal day-after business at hand, including the naming of the team's champions - by the coaching staff - from Saturday's 70-63 win over Baylor.
That there was a defensive champion named at all was rather surprising, but no more so than when the offensive champion was announced.A day after Smith set school records with 656 yards passing and eight touchdowns, Stedman Bailey had broken the school record for receiving yards with 303, Tavon Austin snapped the mark for receptions with 14, J.D. Woods had the singularly most spectacular and significant catch among his 13 receptions and Andrew Buie had stepped up to fill a running back void with 25 carries, the offensive champion was ...Joe Madsen.The center.Even his offensive line mates groaned."Braun was [mad],'' Madsen laughed, referring to right guard Jeff Braun. "Geno wasn't. I told him I just needed another T-shirt.''
OK, so maybe mad isn't the word. Braun and the rest of the linemen know the deal. They toil in obscurity. None will ever throw eight touchdowns or gain 300 yards receiving or carry the ball 25 times."Hey, as long as somebody on the offensive line gets it, that's all that matters,'' left guard Josh Jenkins said.And West Virginia's coaches have been passing the award around all season, never to Smith. In the first game, against Marshall, Smith threw for four touchdowns and four incompletions and Shawne Alston got the T-shirt that goes to the champions each week. Buie got it, in part, because of his blocking and receiving after a 31-yard rushing day against James Madison. Only when Austin got it after the Maryland game did the selection not raise any eyebrows.Then again, this was the first time it went to a lineman, which is what mildly got to Braun because after the first game, Dana Holgorsen praised him like almost no other lineman had been praised in the history of the game. Still, he's without one of those nifty T-shirts."Yeah, but Braun takes everything far too serious,'' Madsen said. "Sometimes I have to tickle him just to loosen him up.''
Somehow that's probably a kind of dancing bear mental image best left alone.There's no denying, though, that what Madsen has done deserves some sort of mention. And we're not talking just the Baylor game, but over his career.The guy has played in 42 games and started every one of them. Smith has taken what, perhaps 2,000 snaps in his career? Almost all of them have come from Madsen.He and Eric Jobe rotated between center and guard when Madsen was a redshirt freshman and Smith, then the backup to Jarrett Brown, usually had Madsen in front of him that year. Over the next two years and this one, only when Madsen missed the Champs Sports Bowl game against N.C. State did Smith have another regular snapper."And I think Braun might have done it a few times when I had to sit out a play and then I was out at the end of the Orange Bowl when Geno was still in there,'' Madsen said. "But that's about it.''There is a lot to be said for that consistency.
"That's one thing that gets overlooked when it comes to Geno's play,'' Holgorsen said. "Who's been snapping the ball to Geno since Geno has been here? It's been Joey. [Braun] is right there, too. There's a level of comfort that exists."To have a consistent center-quarterback exchange is something that's often overlooked.''And it has been consistent. When was the last time anyone saw Smith scooping a snap off the ground or leaping to grab one? There haven't been many.Shoot, you want to talk completion percentage? Smith's is "only'' 83.4 percent this season."I haven't had any incompletions and no interceptions,'' Madsen said. "Of course, I don't have any touchdowns, either.''No, but he's helped out on a ton, which probably deserves a bit of mention for the only guy on the team who touches the football as much as Smith."I took some criticism from some people for naming him the offensive champion, but those plays never get started without a center that does everything right,'' Holgorsen said "You can delete a few of those touchdowns or rushing yards if the center isn't doing his job. It wasn't just the center, though. The whole offensive line played well. Joey graded out the best out of all them, so he's the one that earned that award.''And he'll be happy to live with that T-shirt and a few audible groans.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.