Substantial void to fill at center
By Dave Hickman
NEW YORK - If the miserable weather and changes to West Virginia's practice schedule weren't enough to put a damper on the Mountaineers' Pinstripe Bowl preparations, well, Joe Madsen provided another troublesome issue.
For the second time in the last three years, Madsen is academically ineligible for a bowl game. He was also ineligible for the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando in 2010.
"I'm disappointed he didn't take care of business,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said Wednesday, WVU's first full day in New York. "The expectations for our guys are to go to class and get good grades and leave West Virginia with a good, quality education and a degree. Joey fell short of that and we're disappointed.''
Although it was known to Holgorsen last week and suspected by others, the team did not make it official until Holgorsen acknowledged it Wednesday. West Virginia plays Syracuse Saturday afternoon in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Oddly enough, the two bowl games - Madsen played in two others -are the only games in his career that Madsen has not started. He has been in the lineup for 50 of West Virginia's 51 games since 2009.
The loss of Madsen could be crucial because of the type of defense West Virginia will face from Syracuse on Saturday. When last the teams met, a 49-23 Syracuse win last season, the Orange threw almost every conceivable blitz at the Mountaineers, seldom the same one twice.
As the center, Madsen has always been the focal point in making the offensive line calls that guard against those blitzes. Holgorsen suggested Wednesday that with a less experienced center in the game that quarterback Geno Smith would probably have more responsibility in helping the line adjust to Syracuse's defensive looks.
Holgorsen didn't say who that new center would be, instead preferring to joke about it.
"That's for me to know and for you guys to try and figure out as soon as you possibly can,'' Holgorsen said during a media event at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night.
Well, that's not hard. Starting right guard Jeff Braun, who has nearly as much experience playing on the offensive line as Madsen, has always been the de facto backup center, even though John Bassler is listed as such on the depth chart. And on Saturday, Braun will move over to center and likely be replaced by Pat Eger at guard. Eger started the first half of the season at right tackle before losing his spot. Since then he has been working at guard.
Smith pretty much confirmed the Braun move when he talked about the experience Braun has on the line and how he feels comfortable taking snaps from him.
Smith also said he was disappointed in Madsen, who in four years has provided Smith with probably 98 percent of the snaps he's taken.
"That's really his fault,'' Smith said. "He can't blame anybody but himself.''
Had Madsen played in the two bowl games, he would have tied Dan Mozes' school record for starts with 52. Mozes was also a center.
BRIEFLY: West Virginia's itinerary for today includes another attempt at a practice at Fordham, sandwiched between a morning appearance by a handful of players to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and a late afternoon visit to the September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1