West Virginia offensive line's priority: Keep QB clean

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To hear West Virginia's offensive line coach dissect his unit's performance against James Madison last week, it would seem quarterback Geno Smith was taken off the field on a stretcher, the team lost by 20 points, and the season had to be forfeited.

"That was an embarrassing performance," Bill Bedenbaugh said this week as the team prepared for Maryland. "They understand. They were disappointed. They were embarrassed, you know?"

The game stat line said zero sacks and an average gain of 7.7 yards per play, but the line still drew criticism because of very high expectations. After four consecutive scoring drives against James Madison, the offense had two breakdowns in the third quarter and some noticeable miscommunication.

"If that was last year, it may have been acceptable," Bedenbaugh said. "This year, there's totally different expectations. We prepared well throughout the week, for whatever reason we had some miscommunications."

The goal of the line, explained Bedenbaugh, is to keep Smith totally clean and give him time to run the offense. Smith wasn't sacked but was knocked down after a pass.

"The biggest thing we talk about is obviously no sacks. But our job is to keep Geno clean and not let him get touched," said Bedenbaugh. "There were a few times in the game he got hit ... when they outmanned us. Unfortunately, that happens. We try to do the best we can with our five [interior linemen] and the running backs. Obviously, you don't want sacks. But you don't want pressures and you don't want him getting hit."

It was the first time anything went wrong on offense. And that's good, Smith said.

"It felt like the world was coming to an end," the quarterback said. "I think that's a good thing. Obviously, we hold ourselves to a high standard. We stalled on those two drives, had a safety, got hit a couple times. You see guys on the sideline and the demeanor changed, and that's a good thing.

"We could've gotten complacent ... but, no, we wanted more."

The offensive line is known for its experience, particularly the interior five. They are a major reason Smith has been able to put up gaudy passing numbers through two games. He has completed 66 of 75 passing attempts and has not thrown an interception.

From left to right, tackle Quinton Spain, guard Josh Jenkins, center Joe Madsen, guard Jeff Braun and tackle Pat Eger have been credited with allowing Smith to throw as many touchdowns (nine) as incompletions.

Smith has done it in about six quarters of playing time. In both wins, he was pulled in the fourth quarter to give backup Paul Millard some snaps.

"I was pretty hard on them last year. That's my personality," said Bedenbaugh. "We don't talk about a whole bunch of stats. This was the one time we talked about stats because they didn't mean anything. We didn't play up to our standards.

"With [Marshall] I didn't say anything about yards, yards per carry. Those things will happen if you play the way you're supposed to play."

Smith said the communication is getting better.

"They were asking me if I was all right, picking me up off the ground, that's something that's really positive," said Smith.

"I love those guys, I love the way they work. I always tell them I'm gonna take some hits. They try to keep me as clean as possible."

wvusports


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